Risky Business


“Go out on a limb. That’s where the fruit is.”

attributed to Jimmy Carter

You may have considered trying a new career, a new sport, a different vacation spot, only to talk yourself out of it. Maybe because it will be a risk or you’ll have to learn to “think differently”. As a society, we tend to talk about risk as a bad thing.

However, “(t)here is a need for people who are geared toward collaboration, team risk taking, and finding ways to offer unique contributions” (Knott, 2009). If your kids ever watched Magic School Bus, you know that Ms. Frizzle always says, “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!” It sounds like a recipe for disaster but it’s also a recipe for learning.

Luckily, Saint Brigid School is full of risky behavior — the kind that creates critical thinkers and problem solvers. We are blessed with teachers who shake things up and try new things, sending the message that mistake-making, mess-making, and chance-taking  are part of the learning process.

This year I have the privilege of collaborating with several of these teachers before and after school, as we find our way down the path toward technology integration within the classroom. Mrs. White, Ms. Rodriguez, Mrs. O’Brien, Mrs. Found, Mrs. Halpin, and Mrs. Newman and others are learning new ways of teaching tried-and-true subjects, all with the goal of keeping students engaged, excited, and enthusiastic about everything from adverbs to eskers (a glacial landform). There are savvy teachers using this class time to consider  how to keep students curious (think Genius Hour).  We also have a number of teachers who consider themselves tech-averse but are still putting in the time and the brain power to learn something new every time we meet.

We know that trying new things comes with risk, even when we’ve tested and retested, and done everything right. We are not afraid to endeavor and we know that our risks are your students’ gains.

Knodt, J. S. (2009). Cultivating Curious Minds: Teaching for Innovation through Open-Inquiry Learning. Teacher Librarian, 37(1), 15-22.


How About Some Raspberry Pi?


Community + Hands-On Innovation = Project-Based Learning


Project-based learning begins with a question. Thanks to a brilliant idea from Joe Sanderson (a friend of Mrs. White/ third grade) for the annual Hackathon event at Kepware, the question was: “Would Saint Brigid School like to be the lucky recipient of eight Raspberry Pi/Kano computer kits generously donated and assembled by Kepware employees?” The answer, of course, was an enthusiastic “yes!”.

Even better, over two days last week, the students and Kepwareans built the computers *together*. Our third graders experienced working 1:1 or 1:2 with professional software developers and programmers! How amazing is that?!? Moreover, these children can say they have built a computer — so instead of simply being computer consumers, staring at or swiping at screens, now they are the creators — designing games and hacking programs.

An article I read on iste.org put it this way: “(Coding) opens up a new domain of knowledge. Elementary school is a special time in a child’s life that’s ripe for introducing a new domain of knowledge that will be important to their futures. Whether they become computer scientists or not, the skills they learn from computer science and coding will apply to the rest of their lives.”  (6 Reasons for Coding in the K-5 classroom, iste.org)


The next question is, “Now what?” Mrs. White has munificently (look it up!) offered these microcomputers to be housed in the library where we will use them for Maker Space projects but there are also myriad ways to incorporate these cute little buggers into your curriculum.

Mrs. White and I will be spending February vacation playing with Kanos so we can wrap our heads around the possibilities these computers present.  I will probably reach understanding at a glacial pace but will share the journey with you.


Beyond Funny Cat Videos

This week at Breakfast Bytes (where Saint Brigid School teachers look at strategies for integrating Google into the classroom and ways to facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity), we discussed best practices for implementing YouTube in ways that are effective for classroom instruction — in other words, when a funny cat video just won’t do.

We know that YouTube is an amazing resource for direct instruction; as a “hook video” for initiating conversations; and flipping the classroom to facilitate differentiated instruction for learners. Our teachers already use it in lots of different ways: incentives for younger (and older) students, motor breaks for younger students (have you ever seen a GoNoodle dance party?), and within Google Classroom for instructional support. As Ms. Libby says, “There are some concepts you cannot teach without a visual.”

Like last week in the library — just before I read Trombone Shorty to first graders, we watched a video of this amazing musician as a thirteen-year old playing in a jazz band. This brief video allowed students to understand several things at once: Trombone Shorty is *real* and was once a kid just like them, what it looks like when he plays the trombone, and what jazz sounds like. By the time we read the book, four minutes later, the students were ready to jump into the story. Fantastic.


Using YouTube effectively means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel! Our Breakfast Bytes discussion turned current uses into best practices with some simple tweaks:

Smarter Searches: You can bet that if you’re a first grade teacher looking for habitat videos, that there are other first grade teachers who have already done so — instead of searching “animal habitat” (45,000 videos), search for “animal habitat first graders”.

Curate playlists: By signing into YouTube (using your cathedme.org email address), you can create a playlist of videos that support your animal habitats unit and then you never have to look for the animal habitats videos again — it will always be available to you. Tah Dah!

Use an existing playlist:You could find an existing playlist of animal habitats for first grade that suits your needs created by . another clever first grade teacher has already created. In doing so, you might find a resource for lots of other playlists that work for you.

Use restrictions: By enabling the Restricted mode on YouTube, you can avoid awkward conversations with students and parents. Enough said.

Change video settings: You can turn on Closed Captioning features (in different languages!) or fight back against draggy internet by changing the quality of the video (trust me, you won’t notice).

All these topics were discussed in under an hour and we learned so much from each other that we could take back to the classroom and put into play immediately. If you would like some help using YouTube effectively in your classroom instruction, please let me know! I love to help. And here’s a funny guinea pig video just for Mrs. Krieger.

Use What You Know

After a slow start to our technology integration plans (one-on-one instruction works, group thinks in the middle of the school day don’t), we’ve hit “reset” and found times before and after school that work for most of our faculty. On Tuesday morning, I met with a handful of teachers who are currently using technology in ways that work for them. For many of them, their goal is to successfully complete Level 2 certification in Google Education. Even though they have very different groups of students, they found they are using many of the same resources.

For example, Ms. Connolly and Ms. Rodriguez both use Pandora (a free internet radio station — I didn’t know, I had to ask) for background music while their students work. I found an article from teachhub.com that explains ten ways to use Pandora in the classroom and a list of classroom-friendly Pandora stations.

All the teachers who came on Tuesday morning use YouTube in a variety of ways. Ms. Rodriguez and Mrs. Joyce use YouTube to motivate and reward their first graders. Ms. Libby uses YouTube within Google Classroom to give visual reinforcement to the science concepts she teaches. Google Classroom also allows Ms. Libby to collect assignments and comment on these assignments (sometimes in real time), so she can support budding scientists in their learning. Ms. Connolly also uses YouTube with her fourth graders. In addition, she uses Online Stopwatch with a projector to keep students on task and downloaded all her Reading Street CDs to iTunes, to make it more accessible when she needs it.

These teachers are using technology that supports their teaching. I am so impressed. Next week, I will have a demo on creating YouTube playlists and channels to make it simpler to find the videos you want when you want them.

Today after school, I am working with brave souls who will be learning how to use Google tools in the classroom and in their curriculum groups. Blueberry muffins will sustain us as we learn.

Author Spotlight: Lois Lowry

” . .  My name is Gooney Gird Greene – that’s Greene with a silent ‘e’ at the end – and I just moved here from China. I want a desk right smack in the middle of the room, because I like to be right smack in the middle of everything.”

The class stared at the new girl with admiration. They had never met anyone like Gooney Bird Greene.

– from Gooney Bird Greene (2004) by Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry, a Maine author, will be speaking next Tuesday, October 8 at the Trinity Episcopal Church on Forest Avenue. If you have heard of Lois Lowry, it is probably through your students. Many of them have encountered Lowry’s books either in the classroom (fifth graders read Number the Stars) or in the library (I love reading Gooney Bird Greene aloud to first and second graders). She is also the author of many of my favorite books – like the Quartet series (starting with The Giver).

Lowry’s books are filled with humor, compassion, and a message of embracing peoples’ differences. If you don’t get a chance to hear her in person, I highly recommend trying one of her fabulous books, so you can appreciate what your children love about this author.

I’m New Here



I’m New Here by Anne Sibley O’Brien

I highly recommend I’m New Here  – a wonderful new book donated by Catholic Charities Maine  – perfect for helping your classroom community understand more about the lives of refugees.

A starred review from Kirkus Review states, “Whether readers are new themselves or meeting those who are new, there are lessons to be learned here about perseverance, bravery, and inclusion . . .  O’Brien’s lessons are heartfelt and poetically rendered.”

Anne Sibley O’Brien, the author and illustrator of I’m New Here, knows what it’s like to be the new kid in the class. Although she now lives on Peaks Island, at the age of seven, she and her family moved from New Hampshire to South Korea, where she was raised bilingual and bicultural. Her experience prompted her to cofound the I’m Your Neighbor project, which promotes the use of children’s literature featuring “new arrival” cultures and groups. O’Brien’s website includes resources on creating conversation about welcoming immigrants and refugees.

This book provides a respectful and accurate portrayal of the refugee experience, at the right level for elementary school kids and is available for you to borrow from the library. Thanks again to Catholic Charities Maine for its generous donation.


We Can Be Heroes in the Fight Against Hunger

In this Holy Year of Mercy, the Work of Mercy for April is to Feed the Hungry, as designated by Bishop Deely. Every day we teach our children every day about the importance of spiritual nourishment. If you choose to educate your students about how hunger affects children around the world (including Cumberland County where 1 in 5 children experiences food insecurity), please know that there are excellent resources in the community to make the reality of food insecurity relevant to our students and that there are ways we can make a difference.

In the library 

The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference by Barbara A. Lewis and Pamela Espeland.
This book provides children a variety of topics and projects to help make a difference in their community, including a chapter

December, a children’s picture book that tells the story of a homeless boy, Simon, and his mom, and their generosity toward a frail stranger a Christmas. While it doesn’t sugarcoat what it’s like to experience homelessness from the perspective of a child, it ends on a hopeful note. The illustrations by David Díaz are beautiful.

Stone Soup, the classic story by Marcia Brown, shows us how communities make a difference in the fight against hunger, by working together. Empty Fridge is a modern-day version of the same story with charming illustrations.

Local resources

In addition to the resources within Bishop Deely’s release, there is the Good Shepherd Food Bank, a local food bank offering hunger programs that focus on feeding children through programs like the Back Pack Program and Summer Food.

Classroom Resources on the Web

The Southern Poverty Law Center has a website devoted to classroom resources designed to educate students about the issues that create injustice. By keying “hunger” into the Teaching Tolerance search engine, you could find numerous references to classroom activities that can be filtered by grade level and subject (social studies, math, science, reading/language arts), etc.

When students go online to FreeRice.com, they help feed the world as they learn new vocabulary words. The World Food Programme site offers students (and philanthropic adults) a game that asks users to match the right synonyms to a list of vocabulary words-10,000 in all, representing 50 levels of difficulty. For every right answer, the Web site’s corporate sponsors donate 20 grains of rice to WFP aid projects in developing nations like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sudan, and Ethiopia. The website also offers links to valuable resources about world hunger for young learners.
Taking on World Hunger. (2008). School Library Journal54(1), 19.

For younger students, the Feeding America Talk About Hunger toolkit is a PDF containing activities (build your own donation collection can), coloring pages, and simple infographics that invite discussion about what it can mean to be hungry.

Hunger is an important issue; equally important is having the right tools to discuss it in the classroom. If you have other suggestions for resources that should be included, please let me know. I appreciate feedback.