Saturday, December 6, 2014


One thing that really stuck in my mind after hearing Carol Tomlinson speak was the idea of Mindset in the classroom.  Mindset is the work of Dr. Carol Dweck and is game changing research about how we view intelligence.

Dr. Tomlinson provided a few slides that made the idea of fixed versus growth mindset clear in my mind.  (These slides are available on her website under Presentations - VAST) I knew the power of teachers who have this mindset and the implications for how they reach students.  However, I had not thought of the implications that come from the children themselves.  Yes, teachers may think that all kids can learn and grow...but if the children do not believe in themselves, then the work of the teacher is that much harder.

These slides will provide even more information about how children may view themselves.  My mind went immediately to several of my students - some students who live in poverty and move from school to school, others are students who struggle in one or more areas.  And then, something clicked and I realized she was talking about my son!  He used to have a growth mindset when he was in elementary school.  He was surrounded by people who believed in him and helped him learn.  And then he went to middle and high school where the expectations and teaching philosophy changed.  He didn't fit their mold of what a student should be - he is a creative soul who never fit in the box.  Now, he is struggling - academically and emotionally.  Don't ever think that mindset of a teacher can not affect a child...because it truly does.

What can we do? As teachers it is so important that we give students messages that help them understand that they can change their mindset.  If they get stuck in the cycle of a fixed mindset, they will have a hard time learning and being successful.  We need to observe our students and figure out which ones need our help believing in themselves...

There is so much more to this idea, and one that I can not wait to explore further.  I hope that this has piqued your curiosity as well. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Carol Tomlinson and differentiation

When I first heard that  Carol Tomlinson was speaking on differentiation in science I thought...oh man...I'm not sure we need to split up into differentiated groups in science.  I was prepared to disagree with everything she would say.  In fact, I told a friend that I was going so that I would have more ammunition to debate why what we do with FOSS is better than differentiating.  But, I can now say I was wrong...big time!

She hooked me right away when she introduced us to the Common Sense model of Differentiation.
As she  spoke about these points, I realized what was the problem with the way that many people interpret differentiation.  It is so much more that just leveled books, leveled worksheets and more.  It is, in the truest sense, a method of framing instruction.These are the key points I took away that we need to remember at all times.In order to be a really effective classroom teacher, you need to plan for:

Learning Goals

Here is a graphic that she showed us that really puts this in perspective: 
When I break it down, it makes me think of the parts that are at work in many successful classrooms.  At our school we believe in the Responsive Classroom approach to environment, routines, relationships and more.  We have also read Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind to help us reach our hard to reach students of poverty.  These kids need a different approach than many of our "typical" children.  

Next, I think of our science curriculum and instruction. At our school we also use FOSS, a research based model of instruction that is recognized across the nation for engaging, thought provoking science instruction.  FOSS breaks down instruction by providing an outline of learning goals that can be organized into what the students should know, understand and do. 

Throughout the model there are opportunities for formative and summative assessments along with suggestions to adjust your teaching to meet the needs of all your students.  It also creates an opportunity to teach teach beyond the basic standards and teach for understanding. 

 And so...I realized that I do agree with Carol Tomlinson's theories on differentiation.  My planning sheet is tailored to meet the needs of all learners. I assess and adjust all the time throughout the day.  My classroom environment is open and engaging for all.  Differentiation is not JUST leveled is a whole philosophy based on best teaching strategies. Now, I can't wait to read more  of her books and visit her website to learn even more.

Monday, November 24, 2014


I've been inspired.  It's been a while since I have really felt rejuvenated....You see, I have been slipping quietly into a fixed mindset.  I have let the realities of the day get in the way and slow me down.  Anyone else feel this way?

I just returned from my annual VAST (Virginia Association of Science Teachers) conference in Roanoke, Va.   I must say that I worked my tail off during this trip - presented twice and worked the t-shirt booth! But, I was also able to slip away for a few sessions.

First...I saw the amazing Dr. Adolph Brown.  I don't really know how to describe him except that he was engaging, real and funny. He reminded us to have Fun, be Firm, and to have Faith.  Real Talk.

Second....I was able to connect with many science teachers across the state who are trying so hard to provide quality instruction for their students.  Many of us, myself included, were not given professional development days to

attend this conference.  Instead, we took sick or personal leave.  But we did it anyway...because we need to reconnect with teachers who share a vision.. a sense of belonging...a love of our students and a need to continue to grow in our profession.  It humbles me every time.

Last, but certainly not least...I heard Dr. Carol Tomlinson speak.  I actually went into her session thinking I was not going to agree with her at all.  I thought that her view of differentiation and my view of differentiation were completely different.  Boy was I wrong.  She shared a simple look at common sense differentiation that included relationships, mindset, engagement and more.

I am excited to be re-energized and focussed about instruction.  My hope and plan is to organize my thoughts and present what I have come to know with you.  I realized that I missed writing this blog....It keeps me keeps me keeps me real.  One day I hope to write it all down in a book...that is my dream and my vision...

But for now, I have a list of about 20 things I want to share with you.  Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

SeaTurtle Time - Real World Data in the Classroom

Recently I had the opportunity to go to the NSTA regional conference in Richmond, Va. There I met up with Megan from the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.  Fort Fisher is a beautiful aquarium near Wilmington, NC.  Coincidentally I once attended a wedding at the sister site near Nags Head when my children were little.  I have fond memories of the boys at the shark tank during cocktail hour. They were mesmerized by the sharks, the turtles and the touch tank.

I attended her session that was entitled Sea Turtles.
Now, some of you who have followed my blog know about my dear turtle Squirtle.  Squirtle is an aquatic turtle and not a sea turtle - he lives in our tank in the classroom and is a beloved classroom pet.

In her session she introduced us to her beloved turtle passion.  You see, at this aquarium they monitor sea turtles - loggerhead, green sea turtles and  leatherback.  Megan has developed an AMAZING sea turtle curriculum that is FREE for teachers. I highly recommend that you check it out at .  On her website you will find lesson plans, video links and even virtual lessons.  Some examples of the lesson plans include:

Sea Turtle Hatchling - the kids will create a turtle hatchling out of rocks. Then they will learn how to measure the hatchling like a real turtle scientist. I can't wait to do this with my kids.  I have bought the rocks and have the glue guns ready to go! They will love this.

                                         Another really cool lesson is You make the Crawl. 
In this lesson the kids make tracks in salt dough to represent the tracks the Sea Turtles take when building their nests.  I think this is great because the children get to create it for others to guess what it is.

She also showed us a real sea turtle shell and taught us about the sea turtle's form and function.

This website has so many things on it that you can use all year!  The part I took home an implemented the very next day was the tracking of a hatchling over the course of a year.

So,this already is enough to get me excited! What a great resource of lessons that are developed in an engaging, real world context. But the next part is what really got me out of my seat....

Every year the aquarium keeps two hatchlings left over from the bottom of the nest.  These turtles become "mascots' for a year.  The scientists research and study their growth and development.  After a year at the aquarium, they are released into the ocean as a yearling.

While they are at the aquarium, however, your students can "adopt" them.  Yes, adopt them!!! (virtually, of course)  In the lesson From Hatchling to Yearling you can find out how to adopt either Turtle A or Turtle B and observe their growth all year long.  At the aquarium the scientists measure the hatchlings each Wednesday and then Megan writes a blog each Thursday.  The kids will see how their turtle is growing and they will learn about what's going on at the aquarium.  For instance, this week we learned about Junebug a three flipper sea turtle.  They were so excited to see the infrared photos from the nighttime journey!

In my class, we adopted Turtle A.  As a class we brainstormed names for the turtle - which brought up a we know if it is a girl or a boy?  We emailed Megan who answered us quickly and described that it takes years to figure out the sex of the turtle (male turtles have longer tails eventually than female). While Megan voted for the name Rosie, the children eventually chose Chris.

We set up a data station in the room where we can track the turtle's growth.  I printed off a few pictures from the website and then created two graphs for data collection - a bar graph for length and a line graph for mass.

In Virginia we need to learn to create two types of graphs in math and in science. They understand bar graphs pretty easily, but line graphs are another matter.  I have also noticed that once they learn how to create the graph, they may not understand how to analyze and interpret it.  Why? Perhaps because we don't put it in a real world context. That is why when I saw this I jumped on it!  I can not wait to see where this will lead us this year.

On another note, check out the cute turtle we made out of a pumpkin!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wow! What a trip!

Have you ever had a trip that left you breathless?  My trip to San Francisco is one that did...besides the usual sight seeing trips to the Golden Gate bridges, Fishermen's Wharf, and more I was able to visit Napa, Muir Woods and Sonoma.

 Have you ever been to a Redwood Forest? The majestic trees were awe inspiring, the mountain and valley views on the trip up there were magnificent.  Napa.....was pure beauty.  The weather was perfect, the air smelled so clean, the fog was fantastic!  Did I mention we rented a convertible?  That's the only way to go!  We stopped at a petrified forest, and even saw Old Faithful of California. This Virginia gal was in heaven!!!

One more funny thing happened while I was in Berkeley.  We happened to be staying at the same hotel as the Real Madrid soccer team.  Can I say the most FAMOUS soccer team in the WORLD?  (Not to mention....extremely good looking!) We played paparazzi for a while and took some great pictures.  It was very EXCITING.

But of course the real reason we were there was to get some training in FOSS 3rd edition.  Going to the Lawrence Hall of Science at U Cal Berkeley was a life, long dream.  This, my friends, is the birthplace of greatness....where GEMS was created, Seeds of Science, and FOSS.

First, I must mention the view.  The Hall is located on top of a mountain and the views of San Francisco are amazing. I told one of the instructors that I would never get any work done, because I would be so distracted gazing at the view. (By the way, that's not my hair sticking up, but a plant in the background!)

We spent three days learning about FOSS 3rd edition and the upcoming additions based on the Next Generation Science Standards. Can I say, phenomenal?  I am still wrapping my mind about everything I learned and am not quite ready to blog about it....yet.  As soon as I am, I will roll out another blog.

My new friends....Marty and Sarah with my bestie Sherrie. 

Until later....


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bucket List

I have been looking at pictures from this past year and realized I did not take as many pictures of the work we were doing in the classroom.  Have you ever had one of those years that was just "off"? For me that is how I would describe last year.  Now, let me start by saying - It wasn't the kids.  The kids were typical, fun loving fourth graders.  We had a blast learning, growing, building, creating and ... yes, they even scored well on the end of year tests.  It was me.  First, the school year was choppy with snow days and polar vortex days.  Second, my teenager was struggling in school - that was hard on the whole family! Third, morale was down in my school and district due to a new teacher evaluation system and lack of funding/raises and more. So what did I take pictures of? My family.

As I looked at them, I saw great photos of family gatherings.  My husband holding my four year old  nephew upside down!  My son playing soccer and eating ice cream.  My teenager in marching band and on the kayak.  My dog playing with toys and looking adorable!  My friends were doing silly things with props, at pool parties, at school events and more.  This made me feel happy.

Tomorrow I am leaving on a trip of a lifetime!  I am going to San Francisco with one of my closest, silliest friends.  We are going to the Lawrence Hall of Science where FOSS is headquartered.  I am so excited to do this!  Yes, I will have three days of training...but I am also going to have some FUN...biking across the Golden Gate bridge, visiting Pier 39, tasting some delicious wine in Napa, and visiting the Redwoods at Muir Park.

Don't worry, next year I will get back on track...documenting my science instruction with a literacy emphasis. But for the next few weeks, I will enjoy my time with family and friends...and FOSS!


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer fun with Camp Invention

Have you ever heard of Camp Invention?  This is one of the ways I have spent my summer vacation!

Camp Invention is the only nationally recognized, non-profit elementary enrichment program backed by the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

I had the opportunity to be the director of this year's camp.  It was our first time having the camp and the kids had a blast!  My principal's own children had attended this camp at another location one summer and he was very excited to introduce the staff to this STEAM related camp.  From a director's standpoint, I will tell you that the company provides ALL of the curriculum, material, training and support.  On my end, I helped to find the kids and take care of problems during the week.

Here is a great video clip from the camp that showcases more information about the camp's activities and the connection to real inventors.  

Here are some pictures of the kids and the products they invented.  Enjoy!

Using fabric to create and design fashion.

Taking apart electronics!  The kids loved this...who wouldn't? They then used pieces from the inside on a pinball machine that they created.

Can you hear inside the room?


Look at the hat I engineered for Crazy hat day!

Prototypes for new car designs.

Tinkering and creating with recycled materials. 

For more information, contact Camp Invention at