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Digital Learning
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STEAM: from Sandbox to Spectacular

Have you tried any STEM or STEAM lessons yet in your classroom? Do you have a school or classroom Maker Space? Are you making plans for next year, hoping to raise the bar on your STEAM program?

STEAM lessons and projects are really the ultimate Project Based Learning experiences, with application to authentic real world issues. Where to begin?

I recommend starting out in the sandbox, where we build our basic knowledge and develop a playlist of things we can try when we are in the midst of a larger project. We all start out as toddlers experimenting in real sandboxes, building castles, making moats, and moving sand from one location to another. I like to think of basic STEM activities as Sandbox STEAM. These basic activities are great warmups to the kind of maker challenges that upper elementary students should be engaged in. Even the Arts, an integral part of STEAM in my opinion, has it's beginning in early sandbox play. Imagination and role play that so often accompanies sandbox time for our littlest learners is an early precursor of drama, writing, and visual experiences to come.

Most of the STEM experiences that you see and may have tried are great for team building, an introduction to STEM, and a way to develop some basic engineering skills. We love these short in and out activities. Kids love them too! They are hands on, something different, and fun. Most of them involve the construction of domes, towers, bridges, and mazes. They challenge kids to create movement through the use of catapults, floating, and dropping. They encourage teamwork in moving objects across short distances. All of these basic skills, once introduced and practiced, can increase the knowledge base when kids tackle larger and real world problems.

Everyone knows that fun task of saving a cute little gummy worm named Fred or Sam or whatever. You and your friends need to user paper clips and move him from the "water" to the "boat" without touching him with hands. Kids love using candy to complete any assignment. Even teachers enjoy doing this one the most at conference sessions I've presented. But WHAT IF... What if we applied our skill in saving Fred to developing a new device to be used by lifeguards (or family or friends or bystanders) in a real life drowning emergency? What if kids could imagine a new piece of equipment that could be used on personal and recreational watercraft to be prepared for water rescue situations?

We love, love, love to build catapults from craft sticks, rubber bands, and plastic spoons. We love chucking those pumpkins across the room.  But WHAT IF... What if the skills we developed there could be translated into a research-based investigation of possibilities for air and space travel. What if kids moved from chucking candy pumpkins across the classroom to developing an innovation for the farming industry?

Floating foil boats to see how many pennies each boat can hold before submerging is certainly fun. But once and done? I hope not.  What if observations and skills from this activity could be applied to a longer project to develop new flotation devices or even innovations for boat construction for shipping companies and the armed forces?

I hope you can see my theme here: Basic STEM activities can open the doors of learning and innovation for so many larger STEAM investigations. Take any basic STEM activity that you have already done or are planning to do soon. Ask your students to imagine WHAT IF and to suggest
larger investigations that can be based on the basics learned in the activity.

If you are looking for more basic, warm up STEM activities, you may want to take a look at this resource from Rainbow City Learning's STEM/STEAM category

For more April ideas, be sure to check out these posts from our Teacher Talk blogging group! Only group members may add their links here. If you'd like to join our group, please email me at:

Digging Deeper for Role Models

I've always wondered if things would be different if women were really in control of governments. Wondered if the focus would be more on being kind to each other, less on the need to show up with the biggest weapon. Who knows? The girls aren't always so kind to each other either.

I belong to quite a few teacher groups, both online and in person. Although I am officially retired, I guess I will always consider myself a teacher, and I love to be around those who are still so actively involved. Every couple of days it seems, someone enters the discussion online or shows up at the restaurant or walks into the teacher's lounge with a similar complaint. "It's (insert month here), and my class is still so out of control. Kids are so mean to each other. I have bullies in my class. I hope they don't keep talking and screaming through my evaluation." I sometimes helpfully suggest the proven system I used which can seamlessly work with the standards and bring kids together as a learning community. Works like magic. Honest. You can find it here.

I often long for a kinder and simpler time when kids had someone to look up to. My suggestion? Let's offer some role models for kids to look up to. Let's start with us. Mainstream America has been involved in a campaign of disrespect for teachers for waaaaayyyyy too long now. I remember when kids looked up to their teachers and wanted to grow up to be just like them. (Those of us who have been involved in education long enough will remember those days. They were real.) Starting with us simply means to me to walk into that classroom every day with a clean slate. You have no bullies. You have no loud and disrespectful kids in that room. You are a great teacher with the greatest class ever. Now let's get the day started. They may just surprise you and act the way you would like them to act.

Now for more role models. It's March! And March is Women's History Month! I do like to show my students positive female role models in life and in careers throughout the year, but in March we can lay it on a little thicker. Just add a new glossy coat. While planning for Women's History Month and finding new examples of strong and successful women all around us, I am continually amazed that I never run out of new and exciting discoveries. Working on my newest resource, a Headbands Game to introduce eighty women who have made history, I often fell down the research rabbit hole as I wanted to learn more and more about a particular notable woman. The headband cards create a quick overview, and the note taking page and flip book will give your students the opportunity to dig deeper.

A few examples of role models for us all:

Kathryn Sullivan of NOAA, who placed the Hubble telescope in space, and now protects the oceans and atmosphere of our planet, launching a media campaign for #EarthIsBlue and educating our young people about the importance of protecting this jewel of a planet that has been entrusted to us.

Marie Daly, an African American PH.D. chemist (did I mention the first one?) who researched healthy foods and lifestyle habits that could lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. She did this in the 1940s. She also gave back by way of encouraging young people of color to apply for careers in science and medicine.

Jane Goodall, who lived among and studied the wild chimpanzees of Tanzania. I had heard of her before of course, but did not know of her extensive work in science education for young people.

Just a few. The list is long. Strong, ambitious, motivated to reach and grasp and learn. And then to give back. Leave a legacy. Role models we can aspire to. No one cares if they were large or small. They had no need to point out the size of their own or any other person's body parts. Their interests were in leading from the heart, with all the knowledge they could acquire, in an area they had a passion for exploring. What more could we ask of our own children?

So for this month, at least, and hopefully going forward, let's try encouraging all of our students to read like a girl, interact like a girl, study like a girl, discuss like a girl, aspire like a girl, and to lead like a girl. Let's encourage them to do all these things in the way the best of our role models (including you!) would do them. Get involved in some research and project based learning focused on these and other role models. And watch those immature behaviors and unkind actions melt away.

You may like browsing these resources to get started:

For more Teacher Talk ideas for March, I hope you'll visit some of these amazing bloggers:


This month's Teacher Talk Featured Authors are three amigas! Deann Marin of Socrates Lantern and Retta London of Rainbow City Learning, both organizers of TBOTEMC's monthly Teacher Talk blog link up and Tracy Willis of Wild Child Designs, Teacher Talk's Featured Author Editor. They secretly wish they could've taught together but are separated by geography. Here they are, united in spirit!

Read about this creative threesome, their products (shhhh...there's a secret sale going on!), and their freebies below. 

Hi, I'm Deann from Socrates Lantern. I taught SPED for many years and for most of that time I taught emotionally handicapped middle schoolers. My heart went out to them, mostly because of their tough and unfair homelives. Eventually, this took it's toll on me and burnout was inevitable. Since I have double certification, I can teach both SPED and Regular Ed. My dream job opened up when I was offered a 6th grade ELA/Social Studies position and got to co-teach with my best friend. Creating exciting lessons that would turn kids on to ancient history and make it come alive was my new challenge. I so loved seeing the excitement on their faces when they wrote and acted in plays, held debates, trials, and brought in mud bricks to school to make a class ziggurat. 

Now I'm retired and a full time teacherpreneur. I just had my new website built and am so excited to share my knowledge and products with everyone. I'll be starting an email series soon and would love to have you sign up. You'll receive entrance to my FREE resource gem library!

I'm Tracy from Wild Child Designs. My 24 year teaching career has been varied and fun. I've taught k-8 music, directed choirs, taught grades 2-6 and newcomers, and I've been a literacy coach. Currently I teach in a self-contained fifth grade classroom. Jon Muir taught us that all things in nature are connected. If you tease out one thread of a web, all organisms feel that vibration. I believe the nature of learning is like that, too. Deep down, we're all wild children. My passion is connecting core subjects and the arts into rigorous and fun projects. At my blog, Wild Child's Mossy Oak Musings, I write about project-based learning and math, reading and writing workshops. Currently, implementing Visible Thinking Routines and reading about creativity research make my little teacher heart beat faster. 

My subscribers enjoy a monthly freebie for their upper elementary and middle school classrooms!

Hi friends! It's Retta. Forever a teacher, I am enjoying retirement here in Michigan. My blog and TpT shop are both named for Rainbow City, the classroom I shared with my third, fourth, and fifth graders for many magical years.

During my classroom years, I loved really getting to know my kids as people and learners. I found that the empowerment of my students was the key to reaching and teaching them. Project-based learning and authentic assessment are my passions in the classroom. Out of the classroom now, I love volunteering in the schools and staying in touch with what's important to teachers and to kids. I enjoy sharing the lessons and units that made a difference for m own upper elementary students, as well as developing new ones that make a difference for yours! Grounded in research and kid-approved, resources from Rainbow City Learning offer creativity and fun, served with rigor and attention to learning standards.

As a Teacher Talk blogger, I get to peek into classrooms across the country and explore new ideas in education. Collaborating with other teachers is inspiring. I look forward to talking with more of you on social media sites!

Best-Seller Resources

Some of our best-selling resources are pretty perfect for April's Poetry Month. Even better, we've put them on sale this week,  just for you!

This resource is a gorgeous art project, poetry writing, descriptive language and biography poppy-licious project. I've used it to counteract the Standard Testing Blues. It kicks off our Poetry Month festivities. Click picture to view!

My Poetry Portfolio contains 11 of my favorite poetry forms with templates and examples to get your kids excited about creating poetry of their own. It's perfect for use as a 4-6 week unit, or use it at intervals throughout the year! Click the picture to view. 

Don't you just love the smell of spring in the air? When I think of spring, I think of poetry. What better way is there to teach this genre than to take a group of kids outside, have them lie under a tree and write a poem. This resource will inspire your students, just as it did mine!

Our Favorites

We know, we know. Teachers aren't supposed to have favorites, but we couldn't help ourselves. These faves are also on sale for this week!

I love Storybook STEAM because it is rigorous and fun. The mini-poster prompts invite students to think outside the box and to plan a project as an individual or a group. It uses classic tales and adds problem solving and critical thinking to the mix. Teachers say,  "Incredible resource!" Click picture to view!

Have you ever gone to sleep and dreamed about lesson plans? This resource is dream-created. Students learn about Piet Mondrian & plasticism, view Mondrian-inspired examples and explore the fractional amounts in each painting. Decimals and percentages make an appearance, too. Using fractional parameters, students create their own Mondrian-inspired artwork. Students love this and teachers say, "We used this PBL unit in math, and it's the kids' favorite project all year (and mine!)." Click the picture to view!

This is what you've been looking for because it's the end of the year, and you've run out of steam. You're ready for summer, but you want to reward your students with something meaningful and special. This is a unique resource offers awards with thought-provoking growth mindset statements from various philosophers, artists, scientists, historians, psychologists, writers, and more. There's an award to fit every student!

Last, But Not Least...FREEBIES!

We love our students and our resources, but we love teachers, too. These are our favorite freebies...because we love you!

Looking to settle your ELA classes down as they come into the room? Do you want to reinforce concepts taught in class? These FREE 5 Minute English Warm-ups that come with complete lesson plans, as well as worksheets and a writing prompt will be your new best friend!

This product sample, Raise Your Hand Poster with friendly Dot Dudes will encourage your students to find their own special voices and the confidence to speak out.

Small-group instruction is a powerful teaching tool. It's also a challenging tool to implement. This freebie will help you plan and organize your small group teaching. Click picture to download!

Before we say, "Adios, amigos," we hope you'll visit with us again. You can find us lurking at Starbucks, face-timing in the pedicure chair, and hatching plans to take over the world... or, you could just check out our social media links below. 

Deann of Socrates Lantern

Tracy of Wild Child Designs

TpT Sale and a Giveaway

TpT loves teachers! We are having a site wide sale beginning at midnight tonight ET. Wild Child Designs and Rainbow City Learning are sending you a little extra love with a chance to win one of two $10.00 TpT gift cards! The rules are simple! It's easier than kissing a frog, we promise! You can earn two valid entries to the giveaway by:
1. Visiting each of our stores and commenting with a link for one item from EACH STORE that you would like to receive.
2. Then, leave your email address. 
3. We will announce gift card winners after 6:00 on February 15  
    and will also choose a few winners to receive some awesome 
    resources from our stores!  

Entries are accepted until 6:00 p.m., February 15th.
No slime, no muck...that easy! Good luck!

Navigating Life as a Single Dad

Celebrating holidays or preparing for conferences and performances at school can be stressful for some of the students in your class.Not all families come in the same shape or size, and some of our typical projects don't match the needs of everyone in our classroom communities. To provide some insight into the life of one uniquely shaped family, I welcome a guest blogger today.

Daniel is a single dad raising two children. At, he aims to provide other single dads with information and resources to help them better equip themselves on the journey that is parenthood.

Single parents have a difficult job, and even in the best of circumstances, it can be a struggle. Moms have it tough, but so do dads. Things aren’t better or worse for moms or dads, they’re just different. There’s still a stereotype of bumbling dads who have no idea what they’re doing. Perhaps it’s because girls are raised to expect to be moms, with hands-on parenting duties, while boys are overlooked when it comes to caring for children. Luckily, that’s changing.
Being a parent means you want the same things as all parents: for your kids to grow up to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted adults. But keeping yourself happy, healthy, and well-adjusted can be a challenge, especially when you’re a single father.
As a single dad, it’s crucial that you don’t neglect your own mental health. As explains, “The way we eat, drink, love, and cope with stress, depression, anxiety, and sadness all play a big role in the state our mental health is in. Sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step back and ask yourself if you’re doing the right thing for you, and not the easiest thing.” Keeping your own mental health on track will not only help you, but it will make your kids’ lives better. If you’re feeling down or overly stressed, seek help from a professional.

Here are some more tips for navigating single fatherhood:

    Build a network of support -- Having other single fathers in your life will do wonders for your ability to cope. Even if their situations are different from yours, they have the same wants and needs as you. Being able to talk about your challenges will help you get through the day. Work on building up your family support, too. Parents and siblings can help you when things get tough, so having as many people as possible to lean on will help.

      Focus on your kids -- There are tons of things to get done, like laundry, dishes, career obligations, and more. But remember to take a step back and focus on the kids for a while. Spending time with them is important for all of you. Reading to your kids or playing a game with them will calm your stress and remind you why you’re working so hard. You’re also creating a lifetime of memories for you and your children, which is important and will help you get through tough times.

        Don’t disparage others -- If you have an ex in the picture, don’t ever say anything negative about him or her in front of the children. They might seem mature enough to understand, but they aren’t. Children see their parents as part of themselves, so when you talk bad about their other parent, you’re hurting them. If the ex is saying things about you, stay above it. Don’t engage and stick to the facts. Not every battle is worth fighting. Your children will understand when they get older, and they’ll appreciate your restraint. 

          Don’t forget to exercise -- Try to carve out some time for fitness, and yes, we know it’s difficult! If you incorporate your children into fitness, you’re more likely to make it happen. Watch YouTube fitness videos for kids to get the kids moving. You can just turn up some kid-friendly music and have a dance party. Or take the kids and the dog out for a walk or take them to a trampoline park, laser tag, or something similar. 

          You will make mistakes, but life will go on. Your kids will grow up, and they’ll know that you loved and were there for them. Later in life, you’ll look back on this time as the happiest of your life and so will your children. Enjoy all the good times and let go of the bad times. Your kids are worth it.

          As another holiday approaches, you may enjoy using this Pop Art Family Portrait with your class. Easy to print and customizable by each of your students to fit their own unique family!

          Join the conversation for other great February ideas when you visit our Teacher Talk bloggers!

          Lessons Learned With Miss Brooke

          At a recent high school reunion, talk at our table turned to our favorite teacher from fifth and sixth grade (we looped with her!), Miss Jean Brooke. I was not surprised to hear from so many of my former classmates that Miss Brooke has remained their favorite teacher through high school, college, and life. I know she has stayed with me in my imagination throughout my teaching career, and even into retirement. How could one unassuming elementary teacher make so large an impact and become a cherished part of so many lives? Teachers, isn't that just what you want for the relationships you are building with students today? If you want to be remembered as that favorite and unforgettable teacher, tomorrow isn't too soon to start!

          What made Miss Brooke so important and her influence so long-lasting? Here are just a few aspects of the two wonderful years that we spent with her that certainly stand out to me:

          You were her favorite.

          Wait, you weren't her favorite. I was! No, it was neither of us. It was Jenny (name changed to protect the unassuming innocent). Well, it was actually Jenny and me. That's how it went in our minds. Each of us thought that we were the favorite and might've shared that spot with a super smart, super motivated classmate who always had the right answer and was kind to everyone. (Yes, she was a real person, and maybe, just maybe this post should also be dedicated to her! How does a kid with all the intelligence and talent in the universe still manage to be a role model for collaboration and kindness? That's how I remember our sweet Jenny, and I tried throughout my career to transfer a little of her to my students, especially in that often misunderstood and underserved gifted group.)

          If you read my post about The Good Table, you know that, at least in my little corner of education, where we sit in class is a highly emotionally charged topic. I know it's important to others because we've all seen how college students take the same seats every day in class, movie goers tend to prefer certain seating areas over others, and we all have our restaurant preferences - table, square or round, or booth. Miss Brooke had a unique seating plan. It took little time, and made a huge impact. Every Monday morning, the first student in each row would move his/her desk to the back and then everyone else in the row moved one space closer to the front. Everyone had their chance to sit up front - a very good thing, since we were all her favorite!

          In each of our minds, then and now, that was the lineup: Miss Brooke's favs? Jenny and me! (Me being whoever you are!) How did this happen and and how has this feeling persisted? One of my classmates thinks we were part of a secret experiment, to see what would happen if you treated kids with respect and kindness in addition to preparing them educationally for a future that you would not visit with them. Oh, and since it was the sixties, we also had to be trained to duck and cover for those Soviet bombs which might fall from the sky at any moment. So much to do in a short school day, and so little time to make an impact.
          But make an impact she did. We were her favorite!

          She valued you and your responses.

          She called us "people"! We were actually people to her! Valued people worthy of notice and respect. None of that "One two three, eyes on me!", call and response,  or "I'll wait." (Guilty here on too many counts of that!) She simply stood calmly before us, made eye contact with just about everyone as far as I could tell, and said ever so elegantly and somewhat quietly, "People." Her people got quiet and attentive pretty quickly. We knew she had something to say that we needed to hear. Long before we ever heard the term, we were truly Miss Brooke's peeps. She had us in the palm of her hand.

          Miss Brooke was the master of "wait time".
          I was a good twenty years into my teaching career before discussion of "wait time" became a thing. And yet Miss Brooke used wait time like a pro. She would always ask for several responses when she asked a question during a lesson. She would patiently listen, making eye contact, consider thoughtfully before responding, "Uh huh." and then move on to the next answer. She would finally make a summation combining the input of each of us as she acknowledged the correct answer that was then chalked on the board (Isn't chalking back?!?) and copied dutifully in our notebooks. (Yes. Miss Brooke used Interactive Notebooks in the sixties. If she called them that, we never knew, but we all used notebooks, filled them with notes from class, and interacted with them on our own. We all just called them notebooks. Nothing fancy. No glue ins that I can recall, other than maps.
          Oh, and the answer to the question? I was right of course! She used my answer. No, wait, maybe it was Jenny's answer or Sally's or Irwin's. It was all of our answers so we all felt smart and validated, and no one's in particular. Miss Brooke just listened and found a way to give us back what we all needed. The right answer along with the joy of being an active participant in our own learning.

          She made her outside life a part of our class.
          Miss Brooke lived and traveled with her parents. Although she traveled to many places, she shared that her favorite place was the American Southwest. Wherever she went, she brought back memorabilia for each of us. She would collect shells, sand, earth, and rocks, and bring those souvenirs back as she shared her vacation memories with all of us. (She listened to our own vacation memories with wide-eyed wonder, as if she was seeing each location each of had visited for the first time ever.) I may or may not still have a necklace and a keychain from Miss Brooke in my special turquoise plastic jewelry box . She tumbled those rocks herself. I had no concept until recently what a long and noisy process rock tumbling actually was.

          She made each of us a part of her outside life.
          To celebrate learning, Miss Brooke would take small groups of kids out for lunch over the weekends. She would sit and listen to us, tell us about things she enjoyed, and let us know how proud she was of each of us. I remember being at one of these lunches with Jenny and Miss Brooke. It was all about Spelling that day. Spelling! It was a celebrity moment that I have never forgotten, being at lunch with two of the smartest and kindest women around.

          She placed value on enrichments and down time.
          My parents called our school "the country club". We had enrichment classes, and they had never heard f such a thing.  My favorite was creative dance. No one cared that I was not a great dancer. It was creative dance, just moving to different types of music any way the music moved each of us. There was extra art time (loved that!) and time to explore square dancing and musical instruments. I'm pretty sure there were sports and science related enrichments too.
          Miss Brooke's contribution to our "country club" enrichments was to not require us to make up any work we missed while out of her class for enrichments. Miss Brooke was all about brain breaks before that was ever even a thing too. None of us seemed to be any less smart or any less successful on tests due to our participation in enrichments. I can still remember that feeling today of being so excited to wake up and head to school every morning to see Miss Brooke, learn with her, and visit an enrichment or two.

          She made learning fun.
          Miss Brooke made learning games for us to use when our work was done, and often the games were part of our work. We were reminiscing at our reunion about a map game she made with electric circuits that lit a bulb when we matched the state name to the place on the map.
          We worked in groups. We collaborated with partners. We learned to make salt and flour mixtures to show topography and explored the wonders of dioramas. We talked about our learning with each other and with our teacher. She never gave us the answers. She drew them from us. We owned those answers and remembered them.

          Miss Brooke had pens that used turquoise ink. She let us write with them at her desk. She told us and our parents where to buy the pens, ink, and later on cartridges of turquoise ink. I can't even describe the feeling I still get today when I sit down to write with turquoise ink. I'm pretty sure I used only turquoise ink through high school and college. She taught us that writing isn't a chore - it's a beautiful part of life.

          Miss Brooke was an avid reader and showed us that reading is a joyful experience. She discussed books that we had chosen from the school library with us, showing the same wide eyed interest that she showed whenever she listened to us discuss any topic. Even book reports were fun when we knew that Miss Brooke would read them, and tell us what she thought.

          She spent real time with us when she didn't have to.
          Most of the kids at our school went home for lunch. Our moms were not all Donna Reed, wearing pearls and heels, as they served us a picture perfect menu each day. Not all of our moms were even actually home. Some kids stayed at school and carried a lunch. There was no cafeteria and no food service, but once a month, the PTA sponsored a "Mother's Day Out" lunch. Volunteer moms served us hot dogs with ketchup and mustard and potato chips in our classrooms. The hot dogs tasted even better back then because we had no idea how unhealthy they were! My favorite memory of "Mother's Day Out" is that Miss Brooke helped to serve us all, and then she sat down and joined us for a hot dog lunch.
          Miss Brooke was a constant that we could all count on. She greeted her people with a smile every day, was never too busy for any of us, stayed past dismissal time, and never seemed to run out of the room when we went to specials or enrichments.

          I could go on and on about the many ways Miss Brooke impacted my life and teaching career, butI won't do that here. I do hope that I gave a little of what she gave me to each of the students I've had over the years. In any case, I do know that Miss Brooke made the world a better place in so many more ways than she will ever know.

          I have searched the internet high and low for some sign of this cherished teacher, but all I could find was an interview in local newspaper from the time I was lucky to be one of Miss Brooke's people. Actual elementary gifted programming ("The Scholars Program") started in our district when my classmates and I were already in high school. This direct quote from Miss Brooke across time gives us a glimpse into the teacher she was.

          "Most teachers, like Miss Jean Brooke, relate everything they do to their jobs. On vacation trips, she takes pictures and later shows the slides to her sixth graders at Sunnyside School as a geography aid. Her classroom at the school is a gay and lively place. An aquarium in one corner shares space with plants, games and books. In the front of the room is a map of the United States. There are no names on the states, but when a student correctly identifies one by its outline, a blue light flashes at the top of the board. Learning is fun for Miss Brooke's students. And teaching is fun for her. 

          "The satisfactions are obvious things," she said. "The light in children's eyes; the day they suddenly grasp an idea we've been working on; the times when a student will say something that is so mature." 

          Enthused, too, about the hard-working Sunnyside PTA, Miss Brooke explained. "Parents want the best for their children, and I want the best for them, so it seems very natural for us to work together.”

          I hardly think Miss Brooke was like "most teachers" of the time. She was certainly like no other teacher I ever experienced as a student. Thank you, Miss Brooke, from the bottom of my heart, for all you gave to each of us every day. You were eons ahead of your time, and you made a real and lasting difference!

          From your favorite,

          For more musings from inside and outside of the classroom this frigid January, stop by these amazing blogs:

          The "add your link" button is only for members of the Teacher Talk blogging group. If you would like to join us, please contact me!

          The Great Homework Debate Comes Home

          Never a fan of homework as a parent or teacher, the great debate has really hit home for me recently. As a recently retired teacher, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances still ask my opinion on issues in education. I'm grateful. It means they still view me as a teacher, even though I am not currently running my own classroom, and it reaffirms my long-held belief that everyone is always entitled to my opinion! (JK - ok, not really!) Just ask me. Ask me anything. You'll see.

          At my granddaughter's cooking class this week, I found myself at the Play Doh table. Sweet Pea's cooking class involves grandparents, parents, and several nannies as assistants to the little emergent chefs. It's a favorite activity that Grandma and Papa (That's us!) share with our little sweetie each week. (Retirement is everything they say it is - and more!) Kids come in and engage in free play at first. There is music, so we dance into the room and choose an activity. There is actual free play with any toys and make-believe stuff in the room. We ALWAYS have a picnic. Always. First thing - shop for plastic food and dishes, place them in a picnic basket, and sit around the school bus pretending to eat plastic portions. We love it.

          There are also two tables set up - one with a craft project built around the recipe of the day. There is also a Play Doh table, set up with thematic cookie cutters, rolling pins, and lots of fresh Play Doh. Yummy and inviting. Memories come flooding back to Play Doh tables of the past. When my girls were small, we used go to Mother Toddler classes each week. I was stay at home mom during a seven year hiatus from teaching until my daughters were ready for school themselves. I remember the Mom-Tot classes as a great social outlet and loved the interpersonal aspect of the Play Doh table in particular. Actual multi-syllabic, whole sentence adult conversation for about 20 minutes a week. I made some great forever friends at the Play Doh table also!

          This week at the Play Doh table, another grandma was already busy rolling and patting and cutting when we took a seat on the tiny chairs. (Sitting down is pretty easy. Standing up again though - ugh!) "So what do you think of the no homework policy?" she asked me. Aaah... an opportunity to take a stand on an issue in education. This was a little complicated though. We are grandmothers together now, but she also was once a parent of two of my third grade students. Those were the years of the ten minutes per grade level rule of thumb. For me, thirty minutes of homework for third graders consisted of reading for fifteen minutes and writing for fifteen minutes. Leftover work from the day had to be added in, but that cancelled out some much needed reading and writing practice. With many gifted students in that class (hers included), I also had ongoing project work available, allowing some class time each week, and counting on some at-home attention to it so that one project could be completed during each report card period.

          I decided to focus my answer as a grandma, not a teacher. My favorite grandson's school (PSA from him as he rolls eyes: "Grandma! I'm your ONLY grandson." A mere technicality!) has a no homework policy. The public school district that I retired from seems to be headed in that direction. My grandma friend from The Play Doh table reports that her grandchildren's district has gone totally no homework. I responded that although my grandson has no official homework, he is expected to make up missed work if he has been out of school for any reason, illness or vacation. He also grabs two or three books as soon as he gets home and reads to whichever adult is there with him. He loves reading to his little sister (aka Sweet Pea) also. He then practices his writing for about ten minutes. Math comes naturally to him, and we all make up real life problems for him as we enjoy living real life with him.

          My opinion is that learning at home should be natural and part of everyday life. People in real life read. (At least they should read.) Children need to be read to, read with, and to see their parents/caregivers enjoying life as a reader. It makes a big difference in those test scores, not to mention in a life worth living. Math is a real part of our everyday life, and lots of transactions throughout the day and on weekends involve math. Kids can be involved in shopping, online ordering, and cooking. Kids love to measure stuff, and fractions can be so naturally and easily introduced by measuring and cooking together. Just ask Favorite Grandson (first grader) and Sweet Pea. We do it all the time. Play Doh play is another way to work on those fractions as well as greater/less than, adding, and subtracting.

          We also do science and STEAM projects together. There is always a project in process around here, and another one going on at their house. Right now, a marathon monopoly game is taking place for about twenty minutes a day at their house! Just leave it set up. Play right before bedtime or for a few minutes in the morning or after school.

          Favorite Grandson working on a fairy garden.
          Subtle irony: His shirt says, "The pirates ate my homework"

          Sweet Pea hard at work in cooking class.
          Giant flower in hair because we read Fancy Nancy before leaving for class and needed to raise the fancy bar a little.

          It appears that I've changed my usual audience here to parents, but many teachers are also parents. Teachers and parents have had the great homework debate long before I was a teacher, and I'm sure will be having the same debate long after I'm gone. It can be a testy, tricky topic, or an opportunity to discuss all the ways learning can take place. Teachers, when parents ask you for "vacation homework", just tell them to have their child write a journal entry each day of their vacation and read a little each evening. They might even include maps in their journal entries. Pictures can be added digitally if the family takes a laptop or other device along for journaling, or added later with glue when they return. It makes a wonderful keepsake for that child to own forever and to share in class, and will be so much more interesting to the teacher than a folder with undone copy pages that... "Oops! We didn't have as much time for as we thought we would!" (You know.)

          As for homework to be done at home each night, how about just instilling the love of learning, and the ongoing belief that learning is an all the time thing, and a natural part of our lives? Suggest reading, journaling, working on entries in their interactive notebooks from school, and ongoing home projects.  Most parents will say, "What a great idea!" Those who don't may just need a little scaffolding. Try sending one journal prompt per night home, or assign a chapter to read. Start a project in school and assign a piece of it to be worked on at home.

          For easy print and go resources to help parents with more open-ended homework, you might be interested in these from Rainbow City Learning:

          With winter break approaching, this just might be the time to introduce your students and their families to taking more of a "learning in the wild" approach to homework. Less busy work for you and development of real and lasting life skills for your students! Enjoy every minute of your upcoming break!

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