The more things change..

Over my 30 years of teaching I have taught many grades.  Right now I am in my second go round in third grade.  I also taught it about 20 years ago for 6 years.  It has been an adventure to come back to a grade that I previously taught.  Somethings have stayed the same and some are drastically different.

Although I am sure that the social studies in grade three has gone through many revisions, I am back to teaching countries which I taught 20 years ago.  I have been processessing the different between then and now and have found it very interesting.


Students were required to pick a country and get 3 books from the library on it.  All students brought in books.  If they didn’t have the books, they couldn’t do the project.  We did as teachers, however, go to our town libraries and get all the country books we could. We then took a huge sheet of construction paper and divided it into 6 sections and labeled each section with the topic to study.  Then students hand wrote a report.  They created a poster with the report, flag, map and cultural doll.  We had a big International Celebration completely with food and drinks from their country.


I set up more as project based learning.  It started with learning about the Olympics and the Olympic events and the students learning about them.  Then students  had to choose a country that was in the Olympics.  They were required to bring in materials (many did not) to support their learning.  It was set up as project based learning.  Students needed to research various topics (as determined by the curriculum).  This time, in addition to books, students also used travel magazines, internet print outs and the actually internet.  I did not go to the library to get extra books.

Computers were an essential part this time. Instead of going to the library, I set up a Symbaloo page (which is an online bookmarking system) which had all appropriate sites that students could go to for information.  Because of the internet, students could chose remote countries that may not have had any books on it. I had one student do his report on Eritrea (a small country in Africa that had one person in the Olympics).  I have even had students contact the country they were researching.

Traveling abroad was rare 20 years ago.  This year alone, three of my students had visited/lived in their country and added that information to their project.

The International Celebration was much different than before.  All the projects were unique as students chose the means they wanted; I had google slides, book creator (an online book creator), and presentation boards (where all students had used some word processessing). There was no food or drinks because of allergies.  Parents still came and students still presented.

The biggest aha moment for me was when a parent called to face time to hear his son present because he was in California on a business trip.  I thought that was just fabulous.


I love technology.  I love how it makes learning accessible for all students immediately.  I love how students are able to find the method that works for their brain/learning style and go with it.  However, as I look back, at what my team used to do 20 years ago (and they were doing the Country Project before I joined the team), they were incrediblely innovative! It was a fabulous project then….and now!

Here are some snapshots of parts of student work who used google slides.  Enjoy!




What exactly is the purpose of school?

As many of you know, I participate in a twitter chat each morning at 5:30 called the #bfc530.  Each morning for 15 minutes we discuss one question.  Educators from all over the world join in.  I am so lucky to have this resource.  Often, the question leaves me pondering it for the rest of the day.  I can even lead into an assignment for my classroom.

On Friday, the question was, What do you think your students will say when asked what is the purpose of school?  Hmm….I really don’t know.  I would love for them to say things like it stimulates your brain and encourages you to learn. But then again, these are 8 year olds, who knows what they will say. I decided I would ask them.  It is alway tricky when you ask 8 year olds for their honest opinion.  They give it to you.  Honestly.  They don’t hold back. Ever.

So, with my breath held, I wrote this on the board.  “Write me a letter telling me what the purpose of school is.  Then write and tell me what the purpose of my classroom.”   I further explained..tell me why we go to school and then why we go to my classroom.

Most children wrote that the purpose of school is to learn. “The purpose of school is to learn so when you grow up you can tell your children things that they want to know or go to a good college.”

”I think the purpose of school is to learn because if you don’t learn maybe you could have problems with a lot of things like your job.”

”I think we go to school to because we need to be smart. Like if we go to college then get a job. How are we going to a get a job if we know nothing?”

This was my favorite answer:


Here is another favorite:




As far as my classroom, it seems like the majority of students thinks it is to learn and have fun.

”I go to Mrs. I.’s class to learn, have fun and explore.  I also go to her class to read.”

”I think the purpose of school is to learn and laugh at Mrs. I. Jokes.”

One of my students wrote, “I go to Mrs. I.’s class because one reason is because it is the class I was supposed to be in. Also the big humans in this class are nice.” (I always call my students short humans)

Many students commented on my relationship with my paraprofessional (a good friend of mine for 20 years and retired postal investigator now turned exceptional paraprofessional). “We need the classroom because it has walls so no one can hear us cracking up over a joke that Mrs. I. Made about Mr. Carroll being so naughty.”

This was one of my favorites:




These letters all made me smile.  The students clearly appeared happy and see school as a fun place to learn and grow.  This warmed my heart.  With all the high stakes testing and pressure on teachers to improve test scores, my students still love learning.  These letters show me that they are happy to come to school every day.  I am grateful for that.  This is a special group of students and I am enjoying every minute of this school year.



On Saturday, I wrote about this amazing book by Matt De la Pena. It really is spectacular. If you haven’t read it, you really need to! It is just beautiful.  I then had my students write their own version of where they find love.  I hope you enjoy their responses as much as I did! There is hope




I’d say that is pretty hard to argue with.  Thank goodness for garbage cans!  I know sometimes my students forget I have one, and mistake the floor for it, but I, personally, am glad that it is there. Right in the corner of my room, even if the trash doesn’t always make it unless I lose my mind, patiently remind my students to use it.


I love the illustrations of this one ^.  I do have to wonder, how is love in his locker?  What is going on there? Mental note, pay attention when he goes there.


Okay so this ^ child gets an A and is officially my favorite.


Don’t you just love this one^. It also came with a story about a friend who moved away and how much she was missed.


Don’t we all love that smell?


My students really showed me that they can find love in all kinds of places.  I found love in that!












Bravery and the Winter Games

I am not the same teacher I was 6 years ago.  The change, finding twitter and the amazing free PD that comes with it.  Through twitter, I also found which podcasts to listen to and which books to buy.  Enter in Dave Burgess. His publishing company DBC is amazing and each book is as good as the last.  The main goal that I see is to give teachers confidence to do what is right because kids deserve it.

I was fortunate enough to see Dave speak this year.  He talked about giving kids experiences and capitalizing on what is trendy and popular (ie fidget spinners).  Hmmm..that got me thinking.  The Winter Olympics are this year.  Wouldn’t it be great to add them to the curriculum.  We have to read nonfiction, what better nonfiction to read about than the Olympics.

By coincidence, we try to go away every winter to regroup with our college  for a bit.  This year, we chose Lake Placid.  Home of the 1980 Olympic Games.  The Miracle on Ice.  Due to snow and absolute freezing weather, we were not able to see all of the sights we would have liked to, we were able to see some and gain some prospective on exactly what they Olympic athletes go through.  I mean, we all know about the dedication and hard work. That has to be a given, right?  One thing that shocked me was the bravery..the absolute bravery to do what they do.

Here is a pic of my family on the bobsled.  They went down the track at lightning speed.


I am a scardy cat..I didn’t go.  But I happily watched them from the lounge.

The next event we went to was the ski jumping.  Just looking up at that massive structure caused me to be dizzy.  I didn’t think I would make it.  I have an irrational fear of heights. You had to take a ski lift to the jump and then take an elevator to the top.  I forced myself to go.  However, I drew the line at going all the way to the top.  I stayed in the lounge area.  My family went up one more story and got this pic:


I seriously get sick just looking at this pic.  That is the bar that the ski jumpers sit on before they jump.

TV cannot do it justice.  As my students start their study of the Olympics, I am going to glad to give them my perspective; the freezing cold temperatures, the hard work, the dedication and the bravery.  The absolute bravery of being able to do what they do.

My students were 4 the last time the Winter Olympics came around.  I don’t even know if they remember them.  I will watch with a new understanding.  I hope I can give that to them!





#oneword – 8 year old style

Yesterday, I shared my #oneword2018.  I also did the activity in my classroom and had my third grade students come up with words for themselves and a class word.  We had many great choices for our class word.  The one they decided, by vote, on was KINDNESS.  I love that they chose this word.  We had read Wonder at the beginning of the year and we have spent a lot of time talking about how kindness matters, that the power of kindness is never ending and everyone deserves kindness, regardless of if we like them or not.

We brainstormed on Monday what good words would be as guiding words for 2018 for them. We created a chart and yesterday they picked their words.  Here are a few of the words chosen and the reason why:

Friendship: because everyone needs friends

confidence: to remind myself to keep trying when things get hard

Yes: as in yes I can, when doing math

happiness: because I want to remind myself to have fun and relax

grit: to never give up and keep going

hope: to always hope for good things to happen

kind: to remember to be kind to everyone

I think they did a great job!



You Talked to Who????

Wow have things changed since I started teaching! I often take for granted the advances that have made my life more enjoyable in the classroom. Yesterday, I was hit full force with just awe. When I started my career, we had no computers at all. I think the secretary may have had one. Now, I carry everything I need either on my phone or my iPad. It would not be unusual to see me working on three devices at once. I did not have a phone in my classroom. I used to have to go to the office and wait for a line out (of which we had two). I didn’t think about it was just the way it was.

Yesterday, we Skyped Alaska. I am in Connecticut. Actually, we didn’t Skype. Because they are so remote, they facebook video chatted with us (thank goodness for the young teacher in Alaska who could walk me through that). Can you imagine?! Children from Alaska and children from Connecticut looking at each other and talking. Asking questions and finding out about each other. It was awesome!

We learned that yesterday in Alaska it was 7 degrees outside. Many of the children were wearing hats in the classroom. The coldest it has gotten in 50 degrees below zero. We also learned that they can get a foot of snow a day and they go to school no matter what. They laughed at us that we miss school if there is too much snow. There are 20 children in the third grade class and that was their entire town of grade three students. What hit my class was that it was 12:40 in CT and our new friends in Alaska had just gotten to school because it was 8:40 am there. Their students also asked in anyone hunted or trapped animals. They said their houses are usually made by hand and out of wood and trees.

I don’t know if my class totally understood how amazing this was. For them, Skyping has become something that we do. We definitely discussed it after. We talked about how their lives are different than ours and how wonderful is that that we get to see that first hand. We can read all about these states, but to actually talk to children from there..priceless!

I will forever be grateful for the technology that brings these fabulous programs to my students. My 21 year old, first year teacher self, could never have imagine in my wildest dreams what happened yesterday! So, I think my not 21 year old self is going to sit back and enjoy this moment..(until I find the next cool thing)

Push Even Harder

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend the Connecticut Reading Association’s Fall Conference.  It had an all star line up.  Dave Burgess, Jen Seravallo, Gravity Goldberg, and Nancy Boyles to name a few.  It was beyond difficult to even decide who to see as each presenter is rockstar.  My teaching buddy and I decided that we would watch Dave Burgess as the keynote and then go see another presenter to increase and diversify our learning.  For those of you who don’t know, Dave Burgess is single handedly revolutionizing professional development for teachers.  He is the writer of an amazing book called Teach Like a Pirate. But he didn’t stop there. He created his own publishing company where current teachers and adminstrators write books that are timely and practical.  All of the books are amazing (and I personally own about 10 of them).  They are written for teachers by teachers.  They are practical and doable.  They are on the cutting edge of what is best for kids.  I read Dave’s book a few years back and since then have been a loyal follower of anything that has Dave Burgess Publication on it.

Anyways, back to the conference.  We saw Dave walking around the conference, so I just had to meet him face to face.  After all, I had created the  Iwanicki Book Awards because of him! (Also see Here)  He was just as kind in person as I expected him to be and allowed me to gush and get a selfie.  (I am such a nerd) So, we went to the keynote. It was honestly nothing I had ever seen before.  He was dressed in a pirate outfit, ran around the room and talked a hundred miles a minute.  I was completely hooked! (Pardon the pun).  I started to take notes, but quickly put them away to be in the moment and just listen.  Dave’s keynote was about engaging kids, being creative and pushing limits.  He wasn’t just another presenter lecturing us on what to do.  He has talked the talk and walked the walk.  The hooks he discussed, he used in his classroom.   He pushed us as teachers to think outside the box and do our very best to engage kids.

We knew then that we had to hear more.  We had to get to his break out session.  However, I am a rule follower.  I don’t break the rules.  I think I had a mini heart attack even thinking about it!  But we did!  (My heart is still racing thinking about it). I kept looking around afraid that there wasn’t going to be enough chairs and the PD police would come in and take me away.  You laugh, but this is true story.  It is so hard living in my brain. However, I don’t regret it for a minute, even if I felt like one of those hippy protestors. (Seriously, what is wrong with me?)

His message is clear.  We need to engage kids.  We need to be creative.  We need to push ourselves.  This is not just another person telling us what to do.  In my mind he has street cred because it is what he does.  He would give us small little problems and then 90 seconds to come up with something creative.  It is amazing what you can do in 90 seconds. He also said what I believe is true, teaching this way smashes the core standards.  It also makes kids want to come to school and want to work.

I walked away from that energize and yet completely exhausted.  My brain was on fire and yet it was telling me to stop.  But, at lunch, my buddy and I came up with a better way to end the Global Read Aloud than we had originally planned.  I dropped a hook in my class the next day as teaser.  Then during lunch recess, I said to the kids, “I have a crazy idea, anyone want to stay in and see what happens?” I had about 9/16 kids stay in.

So, here is to keep improving, keep getting better, not sleeping through the night but engaging kids and showing them the magic of learning.