Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reading Thinking Stem Guide

Get your free download in my TPT Store!
     The Math Thinking Stem Guide in my last post was so successful, I decided to create a guide for the Reading Thinking Stem as well.  As I have posted quite a bit about thinking stems already, I will not go into detail about them other than to say that my students have shown significant growth in their reading, their ability to use metacognition across all well as vastly improving their writing skills! 

     I have two different rubrics for the reading thinking stem. One is a basic rubric to generate a reading grade. The other generates both a reading and writing grade. All of the rubrics and guides are available as free downloads in my TPT store.

     Give the thinking stems a try if you haven't already. We've got to get our kids thinking critically! For help in getting started, see my post here: How to Introduce Thinking Stems.
     Let me know if you have any questions or comments!

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Math Thinking Stem Guide

This poster is available for download in my TPT store.
Encouraging students to THINK is a large part of what I do in the classroom. I don't want my 2nd graders to recite facts back to me...I want them to think, analyze, infer, compare, contrast, etc. (I do, however, want them to remember their math facts!) It is relatively easy to facilitate higher level thinking in reading. I've blogged before about Thinking Stems in reading and social studies. But, what about math? Math seems rather cut and dried. There's only one correct answer, right? Well, yes...but there's more.

A high level of thinking is achieved by simply solving a complex math algorithm. However, we can take it a step further by including metacognition in the mix and having students articulate their thinking in writing. This brings me to the math thinking stem!

The Math Thinking Stem
The math thinking stem is similar to the reading stem in that it encourages students to use their thinking skills for a specific purpose. These skills include: schema, inferences, predictions, comparisons, visualizations, questioning, and more. In math, the thinking stem forces students to look closely at the math skill they are learning, and really pick it apart for analysis. Even 2nd graders can do it! Here is an example of a math thinking stem:

We are learning about place value. When you use place value, you break numbers down into hundreds, tens, and ones. You can use it to understand numbers. For example, 200+20+3 equals 223. That is the same as 2 hundreds, 2 tens, and 3 ones. I can visualize the base ten blocks showing 223. I predict it will help me when I add and subtract. I infer place value can show even bigger numbers because you can add more blocks. Place value is fun! 

The thinking stem not only encourages their higher level thinking, it exercises writing skills and helps students see that thinking and learning skills are applicable in all subjects!

With this in mind, I've created a math thinking stem guide for students and teachers. Follow this link if you would like the downloadable file at my TPT Store.  I use the thinking stem in math stations every week! Enjoy.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Metacognitive Thinking Skills for Life and Learning, Part Two: Listening

עברית: אוזן
     This is part two in my Thinking Skills for Life and Learning series. Part one explored practical optimism. (Part one: Practical Optimism) Part two will focus on the skill of listening.


     Donna Wilson of BrainSMART defines listening as, "The skill of hearing and attending to the words of others," (Wilson and Conyers, 2005, p. 12). Listening is a basic skill necessary in school and life, yet this basic skill is rarely explicitly taught to children.  Once a child is aware of listening as a specific skill, he or she is able to be metacognitive in its application. However, as with all skills, it needs to be reinforced throughout the school year and at home. 

    Due to the importance of listening in the development of young children (grades Pre K – 3rd), I prefer to teach the skill of listening separate from the skill of focusing. This distinction is made because listening is foundational in learning to read, write, and for oral language development. Consider the words of Judy Willis in her book, Teaching the Brain to Read: Strategies for Improving Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension: "Young children's listening and speaking competence is in advance of their reading and writing competence. They understand more words spoken in context than they can read independently." (2008). E. D. Hirsch, Jr. further confirms the connection between listening and learning in his book The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children. He says, "At the youngest ages, two through seven, long before children can read as well as they can listen, progress in language occurs chiefly through listening and talking, not through reading and writing," (Hirsch, 2006, p. 27). Now that we have established the importance of the skill of listening, let’s look at ways to teach it! 

Getting Started 

     Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers love to point out that, “facts fade, but stories stick.” With this in mind, introduce listening with a story of a time you or someone you know missed out on something great because you (or whoever) hadn’t listened well. For example, I might tell of the time I missed an important track meet because I hadn’t listened well when told what time the bus would leave! Next I would be sure to share that I learned from my mistake so it didn’t happen again. Ask a few students to share similar stories. Question them about what they learned. Then through questioning guide students in discussions of how listening helps in school. 


     Students can practice listening by using the fun Listen and Repeat strategy. Separate students into pairs. One student will share a sentence or paragraph about something they’ve done or learned. Their partner will then repeat it back to them. Then they switch roles. Afterwards, ask students what it looked and felt like when they were listening closely. Consider making an anchor chart of their responses and refer back to it often. 

     One strategy that Wilson and Conyers suggest in their book, BrainSMART 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning, is called Name That Tune (Conyers and Wilson, 2011, p. 279). It is similar to that old game show that those of us of a certain age will remember! Pick several songs that your students are familiar with. Play just a few seconds of each introduction. Have them raise their hands or write down the answer as soon as they get it. Finally review how many got correct answers. This strategy not only provides practice listening, but it also helps “students to appreciate how brilliant their auditory learning capacity is,” (Conyers and Wilson, 2011, p. 279). 

     One of the best strategies is one I find many districts are allowing less time for. That is read-aloud time, or story-time. Not only do read-alouds develop the skills of listening and focus, it also helps grow a life long love of reading and allows students to enjoy books that are above their reading level. I am appalled at districts that do not see this as a priority, particularly in lower grades (oops, I better slide right back off that soap-box). Start with shorter storytimes at the beginning of the year, then gradually extend the time based on grade level. You will see the ability to listen closely for longer periods grow! 

One More Step 

     As with all the strategies, you will want to revisit and frequently reinforce the skill of listening. I find the best way to do this is by modeling the behavior myself, and by pointing out when I see someone doing a great job of listening! Also try to tie it in with other skills. For example, I might say, “I am optimistic that you will listen closely!” 


    The skills in this series should become a regular part of your daily vocabulary with students. The more these skills are recognized and reinforced, the more students will internalize them. As the skills are internalized, you will see behavior issues decrease and academic success increase. 

Hirsch, J. (2006). The knowledge deficit. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Willis, J. (2008). Teaching the brain to read, strategies for improving fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Conyers, M., Wilson, D. (2011). Brainsmart: 60 strategies for increasing student learning. (4th ed.). Orlando: BrainSMART.

Conyers, M., Wilson, D., (2005). Thinking for reading. Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Metacognitive Thinking Skills for Life and Learning Part One: Optimism

This is the first in a series of thinking skills for life and learning. Those of you who follow my blog know the dramatic successes I have had in my class since implementing these BrainSMART strategies. My goal is to provide the reasoning, and practical implementation ideas for each strategy so that you can apply them in your classroom or individual teaching situation.
Is the glass half empty or half full?I consider optimism to be the most important tool. If you only take one tool from this series…let it be optimism. Optimism (aka positivity) opens the mind to be more creative and find solutions that are not readily apparent (Frederickson, 2009). This effect was clearly demonstrated in a powerful study by Seligman, which is discussed in BrainSMART’s 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning. Seligman found that when fourth graders were presented with a challenging task, “two distinct groups emerged. One group appeared to be optimistic in the face of the challenge. That is, they asked questions and stayed with the task until it was completed.” In contrast, the pessimistic group “gave up easily when the task became difficult. It was as if they did not think they could solve the problems, so they did not continue to try. Their cognitive ability dropped to that of first graders” (emphasis mine) (2011a, p. 32, 33). That is mindboggling. Clearly, these students were under the misconception that intelligence is fixed. The creative and problem solving centers of their brains shut down. They didn’t try because they didn’t believe they could succeed. Therefore, it is imperative to teach all students that the brain is changeable. The plasticity of the brain is a life-changing concept for pessimistic students. This is where explicit teaching of strategies to rewire the brain for optimism comes in.
Getting Started
Once students understand that their brains are changeable, and that you are going to teach them strategies to rewire their brains for thinking and learning, introduce practical optimism. In the book Thinking for Results, Wilson and Conyers define practical optimism as, “An approach to life that focuses on taking practical positive action to increase the probability of successful outcomes” (2011b, p. 148). Share the studies mentioned above to drive home the importance of optimism. If you have a story to share of a time optimism helped you or someone you know, share it. Ask students for examples of times optimism or pessimism has impacted them. Use discussion and questioning strategies to draw out the following: 1. Optimistic people view success or failure as a result of the effort they put in, and 2. Pessimistic people view success or failure as a result of ability. Since students now understand that their brains are changeable, their ability is changeable…success is based on effort! Once students understand optimism, you can discuss strategies to rewire their brains for optimism.
            On one of the BrainSMART class DVDs, Marcus Conyers lays out three essential strategies for an optimistic mindset: Deal with it, TNT, and Delete.
By ‘deal with it’ he is saying to take care of the problem, issue, or assignment right away. He draws a comparison between problems and anacondas by saying; problems are like anacondas, if you don’t deal with them when they’re little, they’ll grow and strangle you! Students sometimes put off assignments because they are afraid of failure, and then by the time they start working it is too late to do a good job which then results in a poor grade. They’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy! Alternatively, a student who understands their grade is a result of their effort (optimism) rather than their ability (pessimism) will deal with the assignment right away. The optimistic student will see greater success because of the increased effort.
TNT stands for The Next Time. When things don’t work out well, an optimistic person will think about what they will do differently the next time. After all, success is based on effort!  Let’s go back to the student who didn’t start the assignment right away. At this point he or she would not reflect on what caused the bad grade, because a pessimist believes success is based on ability. The optimist however will look at his or her grade and determine what could be done better the next time, how the effort could be refocused or adjusted, and then follow through. An optimist grows and learns from mistakes by thinking about TNT.
Finally, we want to delete the negative. Humans have about 4,000 thoughts pass through the mind every day. According to Fredrickson in her book Positivity, our positive to negative ratio should be about 3:1 (2009). So how do we change our thought patterns? Conyers says to put the negative thoughts on the RADAR. First, Recognize a negative thought when it occurs. That is being metacognitive. Next, Assess the thought for accuracy. (Will I really NEVER be able to finish this assignment, or do I need to be more optimistic?) Then Dispute the negative thought. Why is the thought inaccurate? (I can finish the assignment by being more optimistic because optimism broadens the mind allowing for creativity and problem solving). Then find Alternatives. What is another way you could approach the problem or assignment? And finally, Rehearse. Practice or visualize the alternative.
            Another wonderful strategy is to prime the brain at the beginning and end of each day. Last year my students kept an optimism journal. Every morning they would record something good that happened the day before, and something good they expected to happen today. It was difficult at first, but as their minds were rewired towards optimism, the task became easier. Conyers points out that the brain is most open just before sleep. Therefore it is a great time for parents to participate by asking their child about positive experiences from the day, and positive expectations for the next day. Involving parents also makes them more metacognitive about their own optimism.
One More Step
            Once optimism has been introduced and discussed in class, refer back to it regularly. For example, when I see a student trying hard on an assignment I’ll comment to the class about the great example of optimism. Or when a student makes a positive comment, I’ll remark on his optimistic attitude. I also tie optimism into being supportive and respectful of each other, because optimistic people want other people to do well also.
The most important thing of all is to model optimism. Sometimes you will be the only example in a student’s life of an optimistic attitude. Therefore, you must use optimism, and talk optimism. Your optimistic attitude will make your class a better place, which will result in increased student success.  Let's keep our students cognitive abilities strong with optimism.

Conyers, M., Wilson, D. (2011a). BrainSMART 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning (4 ed.). Orlando: BrainSMART.

Conyers, M., Wilson, D. (2011b). Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement by as Much as 30 Percent. Orlando: BrainSMART.
Fredrickson, B. L., (2009). Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life . New York: Three Rivers Press.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Plasticity of the Brain: Spread the Word!

English: PET scan of a normal human brain
English: PET scan of a normal human brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
They rang my doorbell about 5pm yesterday. Two high-schoolers from an underprivileged part of the city selling candles to earn money. I ended up doing a sales pitch to them about the incredible potential of their futures. Poor kids...I probably seemed like a crazy old lady to them! I wanted to make sure they understood the  plasticity of their brains though, because they are the future and it was clear that they did not understand their tremendous potential.

"In their book How People Learn, Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (2000) make the case that:
  1. learning changes the physical structure of the brain;
  2. structural changes alter the functional organization of the brain (in other words, learning organizes and reorganizes the brain), (as cited in BrainSMART Thinking for Results, 2011, p. 31).
 Intelligence is not fixed! This is the plasticity of the brain, a life changing concept (and scientific fact) that we as educators must spread far and wide. We have all seen students who have accepted the misconception of fixed intelligence; they don't try because they don't think they can succeed. They simply need to learn how to use thinking for learning strategies in order to be "the boss of their brain". These strategies cross over as life skills as well. I have blogged about the strategies before, but I am beginning a series next week where we will look at each strategy in depth.

Please explain the plasticity of the brain to your students, your neighbors, the kid at the cash register, and to random kids who appear at your door selling candles. My last word to the kids on my doorstep was, "Okay, now go change the world!" Because if they believe they can, they will try. Oh and yes, I did buy a candle.

For more information on the BrainSMART programs, please visit
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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ways to Beat Brain Drain this Summer

Another excellent guest post by: Melissa Crossman!
Students lose as much as three months of learning during the extended summer break. Free from the discipline of the classroom, students experience what many educators call “summer brain drain.” While year round school could eliminate this loss, most schools follow a traditional September to June calendar year. What can parents, teachers and students do to combat summer brain drain? Working as educational communities, they can produce an effective plan of action that keeps a student’s skills current and fresh. In preparation for school in the fall, six tips can start students on the path to academic success.
Brain Drain
Brain Drain (Photo credit: What What)
Old Standards
Flash cards refresh essential skills students learn in any subject. As students review the states and their capitals, multiplication and division facts or Chemistry elements and the signs, they develop fluency in these areas. Parents prepare flash cards by copying important information onto laminated note cards. Students reinforce and material and develop fluency as they quiz siblings or try to stump their parents during car rides to the pool.
Printable worksheets, online math games and board games cultivate math fluency. For interested parents and students, teachers willingly provide worksheets that engage students at home. In addition to educational online games, board games like Monopoly or Life help students develop math skills as they serve as the banker and face real life financial situations. LIkewise, students can calculate the tip after eating at a restaurant or budget the family's amusement park adventure. Math skills are typically lost more quickly than reading skills so any extra math assistance gives learners an advantage in fighting summer brain drain.
Contemporary Digital Options
More than entertainment, video games help students retain important skills. Memorization, strategy and problem solving are a few essential elements in a game that fight brain drain while a child plays. Edutainment involves games that educate students while keeping them entertained, and many video games fit this description.
Online classes provide excellent resources for students who wish to stay mentally agile during the summer break. Full-credit classes, cyber classrooms and online tutors motivate and engage students while helping them retain educational skills.
Traditional letter writing helps students practice their organizational skills and critical thinking. Instead of writing letters by hand, children could write a few sentences in an online journal every day to document their summer activities. Typing emails to friends or relatives also provides mental exercise for students of any age, as long as they type proper English rather than texting shortcuts.
Reading is Still Fundamental
Reading remains one of the most popular summer learning activities. Students choose books that interest them as they read aloud to a parent, grandparent or stuffed animal and listen to books read to them. Local libraries often offer supplemental programs to encourage reading. Reading road signs while traveling for vacation or menus at mealtime offer additional summer reading practice.
Working as a community to engage students throughout the summer allows parents, educators and students to fight brain drain. With video games, worksheets, flash cards, writing, reading, and online classes, the community combats the loss of knowledge during extended school breaks. This strategy ensures that students can find success in the classroom when school resumes in the fall.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

Positivity: An Important Component of Brain-Based Teaching

            Positivity is a powerful tool in ANY classroom! When the social and emotional systems of the brain are engaged in a positive way, learning is much more likely to take place. Complex thought takes place in the frontal lobes.  Information “must pass through the reticular activating system and the limbic system to be acknowledged, recognized, connected with relational memories, patterned and ultimately stored in long-term memory” (Willis, 2007, p.18). Positive emotions open this pathway, while negative emotions and stress causes the pathway to go into survival mode (fight or flight), which in turn restricts flow to the frontal lobes making complex thought difficult if not impossible. Our goal as teachers is to maintain a positive, optimistic classroom to keep the learning pathway open.
            With a positive learning environment in mind, there are many brain-based strategies we can use to increase learning. I consider brain-based strategies during lesson planning, while keeping in mind the learning styles and intelligences of my students. If during a lesson I notice that I’m beginning to lose their attention, I will adjust my strategy or pause for BrainSMART BrainObics or another crossover activity (see a demonstration of BrainObics here on BrainSMART’s website).  I begin the year by stressing the importance of optimism and positive thinking on the brain, and then continue teaching and modeling the other BrainSMART thinking for learning skills which include: optimism, listening, focus, understanding space, understanding time, systematic search, systematic planning, memory, comparisons, and courage. Working on these skills together, with optimism (positivity) being the overarching theme, has made a remarkable difference in my students success.  I teach them metacognition and we participate in Brain Awareness Week activities. They are so aware of optimism that they can tell you about a study that showed a pessimistic fourth grader presented with a difficult task would see his or her thinking reduced to that of a first grader. They will go on to tell you that an optimistic fourth grader will have the courage to continue or seek help to solve the difficult task (Wilson & Conyers, 2011). They cheer each others successes and offer support and encouragement when a classmate struggles. My students even tell their parents to be optimistic and courageous. 12 of my 21 students were reading below grade level at the beginning of the year. Now, NONE of them are below grade level (two are a mere one month behind where they should be), and ALL of them are effective metacognitive learners. That is powerful. That is optimism and courage!
            I think strategies for increasing positive emotional involvement must include the thinking skills mentioned above. When students have the necessary tools to learn, they feel better about themselves. Success breeds confidence. Teachers must model and refer back to the strategies often. The I Feel Good strategy (also shown on the video linked above) is another important and effective tool to return students to a positive and optimistic state. Students can do the strategy alone or as a class.  Success mapping (keeping track of student successes) is another go-to strategy for positive emotional involvement. When losing student focus, BrainObics is an amazing way to get the two sides of the brain working together and the blood flowing. I also use the opportunity to refocus students on metacognition by reminding them each time why we do BrainObics. BrainObics  keep the energy of the classroom flowing. Probably the most important strategy to keep the energy positive and upbeat is by being that way yourself! I am a high-energy teacher. That is the only way to keep the attention of many classes. Moving around the classroom, being animated, doing BrainObics, and allowing state-changes (Scaddan, 2009), are all important contributions to the positive energy of my class.
            It would be difficult to model authentic positivity if I were not feeling that way myself. One reason to feel so positive is that a teacher's job has meaning!  We have the future of the world sitting in our classrooms every day. How exciting is that! If you model and teach optimism and positivity every day, you will see amazing results flow! Positivity is a powerful contribution to any classroom.

Conyers, M., & Wilson, D. (2011). BrainSMART 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning. (4 ed.). Orlando: BrainSMART.

Scaddan, M. A. (2009). 40 Engaging Brain-Based Tools for the Classroom. Thousand Oaks. CA: Corwin Pr.

Willis, J. (2007). Brain-Friendly Strategies for the Inclusion Classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Anchor Charts in my Classroom

With only nine days left in the school year, I am reflecting on what worked best on my classroom walls. What anchor charts worked well...and what didn't. I believe classroom walls should be usable...not just frilly decorations. Beyond that, students should be involved in the creation of anchor charts that hang in the room.

Here are the anchor charts I saw students referencing most throughout the year:

As you can see, my most used anchor charts involve the active use of thinking skills. Math anchor charts change frequently throughout the year. However, here is one that stays up:

My students were involved in the creation of every one of these. Therefore they understood the thoughts and intent behind each one. They knew where to find them in the room, and referenced the charts frequently throughout the year.

Those anchor charts kept my classroom walls interactive and useful. Reflect on the resources on your class walls. What did students use most? What could you remove without them even noticing? I think I'll be making new charts just like the ones above next year. There are few other charts that won't be making an encore performance!

Do you use anchor charts? What do your favorites look like?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

K5 Summer/Home Academic Support

Parents usually want to supplement their child's learning at home, but don't know where to start. It is confusing to decide for example what phonological skills are weak, or what math skills need to be built. Then there is the summer slump. Children tend to lose about 6 weeks of academic growth over the summer! That is tremendous.  K5 Learning is a program designed specifically to address these issues. I took up on their offer to try their product for 6 weeks in exchange for a fair and unbiased review on this blog.

Getting Started
I was able to choose four students, so I chose the four I work with regularly after school. The first task was for each child to complete a placement assessment. The assessment results were posted in the report section for me, or a parent, to review. The results were surprisingly accurate in reflecting each students strengths and weaknesses. Once that was done, the program automatically assigned lessons designed to target the areas each child needed to work on (you can manually choose assignments also). There is also a very important section for children to practice their math facts and spelling.

The Lessons and Reports
I discovered the lessons were animated and interactive enough to keep their attention. The interface is easy enough for a 5 year old to navigate. Each of the engaging lessons has a tutorial, practice, and a quiz. The program keeps track of student progress and provides very specific reports detailing what students have mastered or need continued instruction on. Again, the program automatically assigns the lessons based on student needs. As a teacher, I particularly liked the report section because it was so detailed!

Response of the Students
The students all told me that they loved the program. They worked on it after school and from home. Then they wanted to use it during the school day too! Keep in mind, I have a very interactive and fun classroom. My students love to say, "You never know what Mrs. Dahl will do next!" So for them to want to use it during the school day says something.

The Cost
The K5 learning program costs $25 a month.  A tutor typically costs around $25 a hour, so the savings are significant. (Additionally, the program is you don't have to download any software. The lessons are accessible anywhere there is a computer!) There is a 14 day free trial available that is definitely worth giving a shot!

Don't let your child experience the summer learning slump! Whatever method you choose, make sure to keep up their skills and love of learning so that they will be prepared when school starts. K5learning is a engaging and interactive way to achieve that goal.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bloomington, Indiana's Brain Extravaganza in Full Swing

Guest Post by Melissa Crossman!

A fun and exciting exhibit is in place across Bloomington, Ind. and the Indiana University campus. The Brain Extravaganza, sponsored by Jill Bolte Taylor BRAINS Inc., IU Health Proton Therapy and a host of other sponsors, aims to raise awareness and knowledge about the brain while entertaining viewers with artistic presentations.

Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroscientist and the exhibit's organizer, has a very personal reason for her interest in the brain: At the age of 37, she suffered a devastating stroke that robbed her of the ability to speak, walk, read, write, and even remember her own past. Over the course of eight years of hard work, she regained all of her mental faculties and now works to increase awareness and appreciation of the critical importance of the brain.

For the Brain Extravaganza, 22 giant and anatomically-correct models of brains were placed throughout the city and campus. Each model is 5' x5' x 4', and they’re built to spark inspiration and conversation. The artistic styles painted on each brain vary, thanks to the fact that a different local or regional artist designed each one. Some of the brains were finished by individual artists, while others were completed by university art classes under the direction of an instructor. Themes are all centered on the power and the inner workings of the brain, including music, art, languages, religions, sleep and pain, psychology and more.

To make sure the Brain Extravaganza is educational, the base of each attention-getting brain is inscribed with five facts about real human brains, along with a special question attached to encourage discussion. To maintain interest in brains after the exhibit is over, a mobile app is also available; this app allows users to paint their own brains and upload them to sites like Facebook for comparison with other people's paintings. Users can also put the answers to the special questions into the app to complete a quiz. 

Those who see these brains may wonder why they don't look quite like the drawings seen in textbooks. Specifically, they stand on a long, thick stalk that is not usually shown in models claimed to be anatomically correct. The reason for the difference is the fact that the models include 12 pairs of cranial nerves and all of the gyri. Some of these structures are associated with the brain stem, which is often shown separately in texts.

The Brain Extravaganza opened in late April and will run until mid-October. For a map of the brains' locations, go to There, visitors will find a list of the positions. A downloadable PDF file is also available on the page.

Visitors to Bloomington will find a vibrant city with plenty of places to eat, shop, and stay, and the Brain Extravaganza is just one exhibit to see on a walking tour of the city. Thanks to the map, visitors will be able to easily find each sculpture and enjoy the art as well as learn about the organ that makes us who we are as humans.

Melissa Crossman is an avid writer who enjoys writing about health and education.  She lives in Indianapolis with her two dogs.
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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Shout-out to Frisco ISD in Texas!

The old water tower in downtown Frisco, Tx, USA.
The old water tower in downtown Frisco, Tx, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you want to find an exemplary district full of enthusiastic and dedicated teachers, administrators, and support staff, take a look at the Frisco ISD in Texas. Not only are they finicky/picky in their hiring, but they continue to grow and develop their teachers through fabulous professional development. Not the *yawn*, I'm about to go to sleep kind of professional development. I mean the "Hey, this is useful!" kind of professional development. To take it a step further, the professional development is usually offered by other master teachers within Frisco.

The Frisco administration understands the powerful effects highly effective teachers can achieve for students. Donna Wilson, Phd, in both her professional development sessions and in her book BrainSMART 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning cites a study by Sanders, W., and Rivers, J. (1996) on the cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement. (Research Progress Report). The study found that three consecutive highly effective teachers can make the difference between a student being labeled gifted or in need of serious intervention. That is powerful. Frisco ISD is trying to provide those highly effective teachers for their students.

I just finished planning out my Frisco professional development for the summer. I'm excited. Just look at this list!

June 18: Collaborative Math Planning (k-5)
June 19: The Workshop Model: Math, Reading, and Writing (k-5)
June 20: guided Reading (k-5)
June 21: Math Parent Communication/Education (k-5)
July 23: LLI (k-2)
July 24: Expository Writing Across the Curriculum (k-5)
July 25: Flipping Your Classroom and the Big 3 Symposium
July 27: FISD Mentor Training
August 6: Teacher Leader Academy Day 1
August 7: Teacher Leader Academy Day 2
August 8: Elementary Math Problem Solving and Work Stations (grades 1-2)
August 9: iStation Advanced: Using Data to Drive Instruction (k-5)

Here's what I want to do but can't fit in:

Readers and Writers Workshop/Conferencing Advanced (k-5)
Texas History: Going Textbookless - The TEKS and Technology
Jammin in the Classroom (k-5)

I know what you're're thinking I must be a professional development junkie. You're right! (I'm also starting my EdS degree in Brain-Based teaching and Teacher Leadership with BrainSMART this summer.) But wow, with all these amazing classes offered by a supportive district, who wouldn't be?

Thank you Frisco ISD for providing for your students by offering such fabulous training for your teachers!

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Daily Science Warm-ups - an Excellent Resource!

I recently wrote about my search for the Arithmetic Developed Daily (ADD Math) series and the treasure trove of resources I found as a result. I've tried out another one of the resources and want to share my discovery.

This one is called Daily Science Reinforcers. I've been using the Daily Science in class for just over a month now. I have found these quick daily activities to be excellent for spiraling science content, which is something we don't do enough of, if at all! An additional benefit is the creation of background knowledge.  Occasionally we come across something not yet discussed in class. This gives me a wonderful opportunity to establish background knowledge (or brain hooks as I like to call them) to tie future learning into. Students learn more when they have an existing schema (brain hooks) to tie into...the daily science activities can help provide it. Both review and background knowledge are vital in all subjects for optimum retention. With this resource, it only takes about 5 minutes a day.

Projection of 2nd grade Daily Science
Another thing I appreciate about the Daily Science is the way content is presented. It prompts students to THINK! Even content they haven't learned is presented in such a way that if they will just THINK it through, they might just be able to make an educated guess. I have found this to be somewhat of a confidence booster for students as they get a deeper understanding of science processes and skills.

Like ADD Math, you can get a Daily Science teacher manual with black line masters, a DVD containing interactive whiteboard resources and printable masters, or small (about the size of business checks) student booklets.  These are available for grades 1-8 at the Grow Publications website.

Hmmm, I think I'll try the daily Social Studies next, or the, maybe the reading... I love these warm ups!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

K-5 Learning Review Invitation for Bloggers

K5 Learning has an online reading and math program for kindergarten to grade 5 students.  I've been given a 6 week free trial to test and write a review of their program.  If you are a blogger, you may want to check out their  open invitation to write an online learning review of their program. I'm going to start using it tomorrow with a couple of my students and I'll let you know what I think!

Monday, March 19, 2012

I Turned My Projector into a Smartboard Today!

I moved to a new district this school year. I've been going through painful withdrawal pains without a Smartboard. Ouch. One day I saw an article about a "Wiimote hack" that could turn a projector into a Smartboard. Johnny Chung Lee of Carnegie Mellon University came up with this brilliant idea. I watched the video below...but I thought it sounded difficult. (Don't worry though, I found the perfect solution.) Here is Johnny Chung Lee's video so you can get the basic idea:

Again, I thought it sounded a bit above my head. I wanted something prepackaged...and I found it!!! I went to I was able to order the software (Smoothboard), bluetooth, premade infrared pens, AND Wiimotes. I was so excited to hook it up this morning. My students were thrilled!

The Hookup
It was relatively easy. I followed the directions on BoonJin. First, I downloaded the Smoothboard software, and plugged in the bluetooth to my USB drive. Once my computer recognized the bluetooth, I was ready to move on. Next, I opened the Smoothboard software and waited for the software to recognize the Wiimotes. This is where I got my only glitch. My glitch was getting the Smoothboard software to recognize the Wiimotes. It turns out I hadn't read the directions one of my second graders helped me. Thank you Keaton! It turns out you don't just press the power button on the hold down buttons 1 and 2 until the software recognizes it. *Sigh* Details.

Wii Remote
Wii Remote (Photo credit: Kyota)
Next, I arranged the Wiimotes so they could pick up the input from the infrared pens as the pens touch the screen. I placed one Wiimote on top of the projector, and another on top of of a very tall cabinet. It worked! Finally, I ran the calibration that the Smoothboard software uses to make sure your infrared pens are accurate. Done.

Off and Running
My only problem is that my projector screen is too high for students to reach, and the screen moves a little bit. I've asked the technology department to direct my projector display to my whiteboard instead.  That will solve both the stability and location issues. If they won't, I'll have to figure out how to secure my screen.  

My kids LOVE it! They are so excited to have an interactive whiteboard. It engages their interest and gives them a new tool for learning. We were even able to play Math Lines on Primary Games today!

The Difference
The difference between this solution and a Smartboard is that you have to use the infrared pens to interact. A Smartboard allows you to use just your finger OR a pen. The pen is also not as accurate as on a Smartboard from what I've seen so far. That may change once I'm projecting straight onto my whiteboard.

This is a VERY affordable alternative to spending thousands of dollars on a Smartboard. If I can do can you. If not, maybe Keaton can come to your class too!

Again, the website is
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Our Brain Awareness Week Activities

Participating in Brain Awareness Week is important because kids who understand their brain are more likely to take care of it and GROW it. I learned in BrainSMART that our brains are exciting and changeable...the more we know, the more we can learn!

Our Brain Awareness Week
My class enjoyed Brain Awareness Week! I downloaded the free Mindboggling Workbook from The Dana Foundation as the springboard for our daily activities. The first day I read How Does Your Brain Work? (Rookie Read-About Health) to go along with the introduction in the workbook.

To highlight and give lessons a hands-on feel, I shared this wonderful brain
I found on Amazon: Learning Resources Cross Section Human Brain Model It feels a bit like a nerf football! (The picture is a bit misleading because the outside of the brain is grey instead of the yellow pictured.
The next day students learned about the two brain hemispheres and how they are different. One resource we used on this day (and for the rest of the week) was an engaging book called Young Genius: Brains. I highly recommend this! I read a few pages each day that went along with what we were doing in the Mindboggling Workbook.

Our Senses
We read about Helen Keller. The kids were amazed by her accomplishments! They learned how the brain can sharpen other senses (like sound) when another sense is damaged (like sight). We went outside, closed our eyes, and focused on just listening.
Students Listening

Students also listened to how the sound of their voice changed the closer they got to a wall. This was to understand how a blind person can use sound to know where things are around them.

We tasted jelly beans without our sense of sight and smell, and then again WITH our senses of sight and smell. That was a yummy experiment!

Brain Hats!
The Brain Trust wearing their hats
Students created brain hats. I found this activity on Ellen McHenry's website.  These hats are fantastic because they show the two hemispheres and four lobes of the brain, as well as the different functions that take place in each area.

You can download your own patterns on Ellen's website! Thankfully I tried making one myself first, because I quickly realized I would need some helpers. My helpers consisted of a group of students who had decided to stay in the classroom to play during recess one day. They made their own brain hats in a small group with me, which left them available to help other students during the whole-class activity. They quickly became known as the "Brain Trust".

A student coloring his brain hat pattern
I was very thankful for my helpers. The students LOVED LOVED LOVED these hats!

The Plasticity of the Brain
Students learned that the brain can be trained. It is changeable. Everyone can learn, and we can all become better at whatever we want. New learning creates new pathways in the brain, and practice reinforces those pathways. It's a fact! We can make ourselves smarter! This can be a life changing revelation for students who don't think they are smart.

Confusing the Brain
Coloring in the Mindboggling Workbook
The Mindboggling Workbook had some fun optical illusions that fascinated the kids. They were surprised to learn that the brain can be fooled!

Brain Health
Throughout the week we talked about taking care of our body brain system. The kids learned that what we put in our body, and how we treat our body, also impacts our's all connected. We talked about the importance of healthy eating and exercise, wearing safety helmets, learning, and minimizing our television and video game input. Students were surprised to learn that too much time in front of video games and television can shorten their attentions span! I challenged them to budget their electronic time wisely.
Big brains ready for Open House!

Final Activity
Over Spring Break, students are creating egg helmets! This is to demonstrate the importance of wearing a helmet for protection. When we come back from our vacation, we will have an egg-drop to see how many eggs survive the 10 to 15 foot drop. We will be imagining our brains as the eggs!
At Last
The school was fabulous about letting students share a brain fact every morning on announcements. On the third day, a student from another grade level came in to share a brain fact of her own! It was exciting to see that other grade levels were becoming aware of their brains as well.
Here is a thinking stem one of my second graders wrote that highlights some of the things he learned (the items he lists 1-10 are from the BrainSMART 10-peg memory system for brain facts):

We are learning about brains. I learned about all of the senses in your brain. The right side of your brain is the creative side and the left is your logical side. The right side of your brain controls the left side of your body. The left side controls the right side of your body. I wonder how big your brain can get. Your brain begins with over 100 billion neurons. It has two hemispheres, weighs 3 pounds, has 4 lobes, there are five senses to help your brain, six eye positions, seven chunks of thought, an eight minute attention span, nine intelligences, and a 10 million book capacity. I am glad I have a brain. Brains are cool.                ~Daniel

I think that sums it all up rather nicely, don't you?!

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Arithmetic Developed Daily

Sometimes you just know something is missing in your instructional day. I moved to a new state last year, so I am still adjusting to the new district's curriculum. We have a great math curriculum, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. Then it hit me. I remembered a program we did in my last district called Arithmetic Developed Daily (ADD Math). It only takes 5-7 minutes a's a warm up. I didn't realize how good it really was until I no longer had it.

I Googled Arithmetic Developed Daily and found
the Grow Publications website. I was floored. I had no idea about all the other products they offer. Now that ADD math is running smoothly in my classroom, I have to share what I found.

My Discovery
My former district purchased the teachers manual with black line masters and made student booklets from that every year. It worked great. However, I found an even better resource...they have it all on a CD! You can print out the individual pages AND present it on the Smartboard or other interactive whiteboard. My students almost levitated when they saw it. Believe me, you haven't lived until you've seen second graders levitate! We don't have a Smartboard, so I put it on the computer and projected it onto the screen...they still loved it.

How We Use It
Here's what we do. I print out the copies ahead of time. Three lessons fit on one 8.5 x 11 paper. When students arrive in the morning, the copy is on their desk for them to complete. Once students finish it, they glue the copy into their math journal and join me for a quick review. I want to point out here that you can purchase small ADD math student booklets (which I will be doing next year) if you don't want to print out sheets.

Why it Works
ADD Math spirals content. It is important to go back and touch on things periodically to ensure transfer into long-term memory. That is what I see with ADD math.  Lessons include a skill review, a word problem of the day, math talk, concept corners, "Think About It!, and daily mental math. Grade levels 3 and above even have quizzes included. I like that the lessons include both basic math concepts and encourage deeper thought.

Where I Go From Here
They have the same products available for science, reading, writing, and social studies. I'm going to try the science next and I'll post how that works out. After that I'm sure I will venture into the other subject areas as well. From what I have seen so far, these are excellent daily warm ups with a brain-based spiraling approach. I can't wait to share more!

If you want to check out these products, go to Grow Publications at