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Sunday, April 8, 2018

What is STEM and how does PBL make it possible?


This list of acronyms is only 6 out of a list of 40 acronyms that I know and use as a Pennsylvania teacher.  Honestly, I sometimes forget what some acronyms stand for when I haven’t used them in a while.  And today, I’d like to add a few new ones to my list:


In the last few months I’ve been adventuring into the world of STEM as I work on my second master’s degree.  As I discover this whole new world of acronyms I am also discovering the theories and research that make these teaching methods viable in the classroom.   I, like many teachers, always thought that STEM only stood for the content areas: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  So…if I added a little bit of engineering into my math class I was doing STEM, right? No, not really.  But at least an attempt at integrating one of these content areas was a step in the right direction.  

So, you may be wondering, “How do I implement STEM into my classroom?”  To answer this question there are a few things that you need to know about a STEM learning experience: 

·        STEM activities should strive to be transdisciplinary, which means the lines between subjects is erased and the content is intertwined.  Although the lines are erased between content areas, Vasquez, Sneider, and Comer (2013) recommend that you point out the shift between content areas while you are teaching so that students understand how they are related.
·        STEM integration is not limited to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  In fact, one component to a successful STEM lesson is to "connect STEM learning with one or more non-STEM disciplines" (The Dayton, n.d., p. 4).
·        An important component of a high-quality STEM lesson is establishing relevance by providing the students with real world situations and connections.
·        The lesson also needs to emphasize 21st century skills.  This can be achieved by referring to the ISTE Standards for Students and using it as a guide for designing STEM lesson plans (ISTE Standards, 2016)
·        Teachers should include the “Four C’s” in their STEM lesson plans, so that they are challenging their students and building 21st century skills.  The “Four C’s” include: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication (National Education Association, 2012).  

It may seem overwhelming at first, but the next two acronyms I’ve learned about, PBL and SAMR, are guidelines that help you implement STEM.  You have probably heard about PBL, which is known as project-based learning.  This type of teaching has been around for a very long time, so many of you have probably tried out your own versions of PBL.  

PBL is the perfect vehicle for implementing STEM, because both teaching methods start with a question.  They should begin with a real-world question that can guide the learning experience, so the students can become invested in their learning.  Another important component to PBL is the ability for students to work together.  Since PBL is usually completed in group work, it is a great way to teach the Four C’s that are vital in a STEM lesson (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication).  And lastly, PBL requires students to use different disciplines to find an answer to their guiding question, just as STEM encourages teachers to integrate its four content areas.  If using PBL, it becomes easy to integrate all the content areas of STEM.  
In today’s 21st century classrooms, technology tools are becoming more available and they are necessary to create a PBL experience where students can connect with the world outside of their classroom.  Technology provide students with the ability to research, communicate, and create.  This is another reason that PBL is the perfect vehicle for STEM, because both encourage technology use in a meaningful way.  

Lastly, SAMR is a model that was developed to aid teachers find the meaningful use of technology tools.  Many teachers are afraid to fail when they are using new technology, but failure is good! It helps us to evaluate ourselves and self-evaluation always leads to improvement.  The SAMR model helps teachers become more comfortable with technology.  Puentedura (n.d. -a), the creator of SAMR, explains that most teachers start at the “S” and “A” levels and they work their way up to the top.  The goal of SAMR is to reach the top two levels, “M” and “R”, which means that you start to transform your teaching with technology.  When technology is being transformative, the students are taking charge of their education (Puentedura, n.d. -b). 

I know that many teachers are just starting out on their journey in STEM, just as I am.  And now that I have the list of the components that can make a STEM PBL experience great, I know it doesn’t mean that it will be great.  Creating a transdisciplinary STEM PBL experience is a large and difficult task.  But I think it is exciting that I have the tools, knowledge, and now I have the determination to start using STEM and PBL in my classroom.  

Do you use STEM or PBL in your classroom?  Have you ever heard of the SAMR model?  I’d love to hear about your experiences, tips, or questions. 


The Dayton Regional STEM Center. (n.d.). STEM Education Quality Framework. Retrieved January 29, 2018 from

ISTE Standards (2016). 2016 ISTE Standards for Students. Retrieved January 28, 2018 from

National Education Association.  (2012).  Preparing 21st Century Students for a Global Society - NEA.  Retrieved from

Puentedura, R. (n.d. -a). Ruben Puentedura on Applying the SAMR Model. Retrieved from

Puentedura, R. (n.d. -b). Ruben Puentedura on the Impact of the SAMR Model. Retrieved from

Vasquez, J., Sneider, C., & Comer, M. (2013). STEM lesson essentials, grades 3-8: Integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

Exploring Project-Based Learning Examples

Hey teacher friends!

Today I want to talk a little bit about project-based learning (PBL).  Lately I've been exploring it in my graduate courses and in my classroom.  Honestly, I have always been nervous to implement project-based learning because it is more challenging than whole group curriculum instruction.  However, I'm feeling more confident as I explore how other teachers have used PBL in their classrooms.

Here are some amazing examples of PBL from Edutopia.  This website has a wealth of information from teachers who write about their experiences.  Click on the names of the articles to learn more about each PBL learning experience: 

My personal favorite was March of the Monarchs, which had an amazing project that goes with the program, Journey North. The Journey North website is a resource that connects you with students around the nation that track migration patterns of various animals and insects. There is a lot of exciting learning experiences in these three examples of PBL, so I created this chart below so you could see the key elements:

Click on the image above for a downloadable PDF version

To help me determine the common qualities in each of these examples, I used the "Gold Standard" that Larmer & Mergendoller explain on their PBL Blog (2013).  They explain that the "Gold Standard"assists teachers and schools to measure and improve their practices in PBL (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2013).  Their standards have three parts, which include:

  1. Student Learning Goals - Students should be working on a project that integrates the key content standards, but they should also integrate 21st century skills.
  2. Essential Project Design Elements - 
    1. Challenging Problem or Question
    2. Sustained Inquiry
    3. Authenticity
    4. Student Voice and Choice
    5. Reflection
    6. Critique and Revision
    7. Public Product 
  3. Project Based Teaching Practices 

As I reflect on the three PBL experiences from Edutopia, I noticed that they met almost all of the "Gold Standard" elements.  Each project began with a real-world problem or question, such as "Can you design a 2,000-student high school to meet learning needs in 2050, fitting it on a given site?" (Armstrong, 2002).  All of the projects connected the students to the vital content and inspired them to search for more information.  I could tell that the students had a drastic increase in engagement and that they were excited to seek out new information.  One student had mentioned that she "went home on the first day of the assignment and couldn't sleep, out of excitement about her team's ideas" (Armstrong, 2002).  That statement made me stop and think, "Wow! I want my students to feel that type of enthusiasm for our classroom projects!"

In addition, all of the teachers helped to structure the project into attainable parts.  They provided the students with tools, they connected them to real-world experts, and they guided them through each step.  Even though it is a lot of planning and preparation for the teacher, the students are doing the hard work.  The students had to "explore, make judgments, interpret, and synthesize information in meaningful ways" ("What Is," 2007).  Lastly, in all three examples of PBL the students had to create a final product.  Amazingly, they used technology and 21st century skills, such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving to help them create their final product.

When I think about all of the planning and preparation that is necessary for a PBL project, I definitely feel overwhelmed.  But if you break your PBL project into smaller sections and create essential questions to lead you through each part of the project, then I believe it would be easier to manage.  I am still learning as I go, but I thought that a checklist would help me to follow the "Gold Standard" according to Larmer & Mergendoller (2013).

Click on the image above for a downloadable PDF version


Armstrong, S. (2002, February 11). Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from

Curtis, D. (2002, June 6). March of the Monarchs: Students Follow the Butterflies' Migration, Retrieved March 05, 2018, from

Ellis, K. (2001, October 1). Retrieved March 05, 2018, from

Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2015, April 21). Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from

What Is Project-Based Learning About? (2007, October 19). Retrieved March 10, 2018, from


Wednesday, March 7, 2018


Currently in the United States public school system there is increasing pressure placed on classroom teachers and administrators to reach higher academic standards. The implementation of the Common Core State Standards, new school legislation reforms, and the expectation to increase standardized testing scores all came at a time when the economy was entering a recession. Schools across the nation were forced to reduce their budgets, yet they were still expected to perform at heightened standards. I felt the effect of these changes when I first entered my teaching career. I was one of the lucky graduates that got a job when our economy was hitting rock bottom.  Throughout my seven years of teaching, I've experienced pay freezes, reduced funding for student programs, and dwindling student supplies. And yes, I have also felt the pressure to increase rigor and testing scores, despite less time and support. This is a frustrating reality for many teachers and I'm sure that many of you can relate to similar difficulties.

This has led many educators to question the rigors of their instruction and has stimulated a disproportionate focus on core subjects for both students and teachers (Erwin, Beighle, Morgan, & Noland, 2011). Undoubtedly, rigor in academics is important if our nation wants to improve student learning, but the methods employed to reach our goals is an area that needs to be revaluated. Which brings me to my topic of the day: STEM education reform.

I believe that STEM education reform is one possible pathway to increase test scores, student engagement, and rigor of learning.  In fact, the integration of STEM can increase student achievement in a way that values the students’ creativity, abilities, and interests.  According to DeAngelis (2015), STEM “prepares students for life, regardless of the profession they choose to follow” because it teaches students how to “think critically and how to solve problems” (p. 1).  Critical thinking skills provide our students with the ability to adapt and problem solve not only in the classroom, but in the real world.  This ability is an invaluable tool for a student to gain.  In addition, McClure et al. (2017) argues that “high-quality early STEM experiences can support growth across areas as diverse as executive function and literacy development” (p. 44). 

These reasons alone make me believe that the most compelling argument for STEM education reform is the impact that is has on student learning.  Research provides evidence that STEM increases student learning, at all ages.  As a primary teacher, I want my students to gain the confidence and skills that put them in control of their learning.  With the integration of STEM, students can learn new skills that they “can use to solve problems, meet challenges, and in turn, acquire new skills” (McClure et al., 2017, p. 51). 

Stay tuned for my next post on STEM called, "Is it STEM?"  I will be posting more often now that I'm exploring this topic through graduate courses, professional texts, and personal experiences.  I'd love to hear about your experiences or questions that you have about STEM.  I am no where near an expert on STEM.  In fact, I am just starting my journey in STEM education.  I am discovering that my experiences are very different than my good friend, Tara, who is a STEAM teacher at my district's high school.  She has been mentoring me as I try to integrate STEM into my 2nd grade classroom, which has been super exciting, yet challenging!  Thanks for stopping by!


Ameriqus. (2014, May 5). Are our school children individual little snowflakes or McDonald's hamburgers? Retrieved March 7, 2018, from

Erwin, H. E., Beighle, A., Morgan, C. F., & Noland, M. (2011). Effect of a low-cost, teacher-directed classroom intervention on elementary students' physical activity. Journal of  School Health, 81(8), 455-461. Retrieved May 04, 2016.

DeAngelis, S. F. (2015, August 06). Why STEM? Success Starts With Critical Thinking, Problem-Solving Skills. Retrieved January 16, 2018, from

McClure, E. R., Clements, D. H., Nall Bales, S., Nichols, J., Kendall-Taylor, N., & Levine, M.H. (2017). STEM Starts Early - Grounding science, technology, engineering, and math education in early childhood. Ed Digest, 43-51. Retrieved January 17, 2018, from


Thursday, August 3, 2017

How Symbaloo Saved My Sanity!

I don't know about your school, but in the last few years our school has had major updates to technology happening every summer.  I am incredibly grateful and I'm always excited to have the newest of the new....but it always comes with the dreaded email that says, "Make sure you have all of your data backed up to the cloud and don't forget about your web browser bookmarks.  We will be wiping everything clean this summer."  I've read that statement from our technology guys for three years in a row now! Luckily, I am cool with the cloud now, so I don't have to worry about my files being lost! However, I wanted something faster for saving bookmarks and reloading them each year.  I was so tired of sitting down at every student computer in my classroom and reloading last year's bookmarked websites.  Yes, I'm sure there are super quick ways around that, but I'm still learning about the quick techy ways to do things. This frustration with reloading bookmarks is what motivated me to find my beloved Symbaloo website.

Symbaloo is an online bookmarking website that allows you to create a free account.  Through this website I can access my bookmarks from any web browser or computer and I can customize the bookmarks to meet my needs.  The first day that I signed up, I created a username and password that I could share with my second graders.  Then, I added all of the student websites that we use in our classroom and I uploaded an image to represent each bookmark.  I knew that this would not only help me stay organized, but it would help my students get to their websites quickly.  It also helps my non-readers find websites that they enjoy because all they have to do is click on an image.  I divided my student bookmarks into four different categories by creating four tabs, which the website calls a "webmix".  I also added my own background to each "webmix", to help my students distinguish the different pages.  Here are the following tabs/webmixes that I created:

Reading Tab/Webmix - used during reading centers

Math Tab/Webmix - used during math centers


Just for Fun Tab/Webmix - used during indoor recess and computer prize time


Research Tab/Webmix - used to help students navigate online research material and publishing sites

The research tab is probably my favorite tab, because it is so dynamic in my class.  Last year, the students did a huge research project on animals local to Pennsylvania.  However, our primary library didn't have a ton of books on the birds included in the project.  To solve the problem, I bookmarked a few trustworthy sites that had information on their animals.  This allowed those students to work independently until I could make a stop at our local library and find appropriate books for them.  I also love to add bookmarks of live web cams from zoos and aquariums when we are doing research as a whole group.  Then during their computer time they just click on the icon that I create and it takes them right to the live cam website.  

Let me know what you think! Do you use a bookmarking website?  If so, which one? If you try Symbaloo out, let me know how it goes.  Also, if you need help navigating how to use the website, I'll be posting a how to series very soon.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Basics of Using ClassDojo

July always seems to fly by for my family, especially when we are having picnics, vacations, and lots of pool days! We've been very busy this summer.  Andrew (my 6 month old) and I need to stay busy or else one of us will get fussy, hehe. #busybuddies

Each summer I start thinking about my classroom when August arrives.  I like to reflect on what worked last year and what needs to be changed. As I was reflecting, I started to think about all of the technology that I've implemented in the last two years.  Some of the tech was implemented seamlessly and other tech needs some tweaking before I add it into our daily routine again.  For example, I tried using Edmodo with my second graders, but it just didn't work since we aren't 1-to-1 yet. It is an awesome website and it would be great if we had just a few more iPads or laptops, but I just wasn't able to implement it properly.  If you're curious about Edmodo, I'll be posting about it soon.

Other technology that I added into our routine was much more successful.  The best addition to my classroom was  I've gotten rave reviews about this website from all of my parents, since it's so interactive.  I know many of you have heard of this website before and many of you might already be using it.  However, if you are like all the teachers that I know...sometimes its hard to make a change when you have a system that is already working.  Why make more work for yourself?  I get it! I have to admit, there was a little bit of a learning curve when I switched over to using for behavior and communication, but it was so worth it.  I'm hoping that I can help make your transition a little bit easier.

Step 1 - Signing Up/Logging In:


After you've gone through the website's easy steps to create a classroom and you've added your student names to the class, then you can move onto step 2.  However, please pay attention during classroom setup because the website will create a PDF file that has parent letters for each of your students.  These letters will have your student's names and their login information.  You need to download, print, and hand these out to students on back to school night.  This is the only way that parents can access their child's ClassDojo account and monitor their progress, message the teacher, and view classroom posts.  I always save this PDF file because their will always be a few parents that misplace their letter and you'll need to send home another copy for them.  You can also access it on the website if you forget to download or save the PDF.  On your class page where all the names are displayed you would click on settings and "Connect Parents".  That'll take you to a page where you can download the letters again.

Step 2 - Getting Started Each Day:


Here is where it gets tricky...the first time that you open your class page all of your students will have 0 points, but it won't always be like that.  You need to decide how you want your point system to work:

1. You can have the students earn points for the entire year, which means that they never clear their points. I can't imagine how many points some students might have by the end of the year!

2. You can have the students earn points for a week and then you'll clear the points at the end of the week.  This is what my team teacher does and it works great for her because it's less maintenance.  The kids love it too because she gives prizes at the end of the week for the most points earned.

3. You can have the students earn points for a day and then you'll clear the points before the start of a new school day.  This is the method that I use, because I find it easier to view daily success with my young students.  I also believe that each day is a clean slate for my students, so even if they have a horrific Monday and end up with negative won't effect the rest of their week.

Step 3 - Daily Use:


Step 4 -Integrating ClassDojo into Your Classroom Routine


Since I use ClassDojo to monitor points on a daily basis, I updated my old behavior clip chart to match up with the little monsters on the website.  I did this so the students would be familiar with the behavior clip chart just in case the internet wasn't working or if they have a substitute.  At the end of each day, whether they were using ClassDojo displayed on the SmartBoard or they were using my "old-fashioned" behavior clip chart, they mark their points in their agenda.  Yes, I said they mark their points.  Second graders learn to be very responsible and I learn to trust them.  However, if I find that they are being dishonest about their points, then I can easily check their record of points on ClassDojo.

Also, I love that ClassDojo has a free app!!! I've put the app on my cell phone and all of the classroom iPads.  Now when I'm instructing at the small group table I can keep the app open on one of my devices so I can give and take points without saying a word.  It syncs with the SmartBoard display so the entire class will hear the "ding" of points awarded.  Upon hearing the "ding", students working at their centers work harder, because they want to earn a point.  On the flip side - if they hear the "werhhh" sound, then they start working extra hard because they don't want to be the student that lost a point.  At my school I can take my cell phone in the hallway and to assemblies, so that I can give and take points while we are away from the classroom.  I also use the app to take pictures and videos at special events so I can post them to the class story page automatically.  It makes it super simple to share what is going on with the parents.

Tell me what you think.  Do you use ClassDojo?  Do you need help doing anything else on the website?  There are a ton of features that are really awesome and interactive, such as student story pages.  I plan on implementing those this year, so that students can have their own page where they display their work.  Have you used student story yet?  I'd love to hear from you!


Sunday, November 30, 2014

How To Writing Units and a SUPER CYBER TpT Sale!

I'm finally home from our Thanksgiving trip! It was an awesome extended weekend with family and friends.  It is always a little bit crazy with everyone around.  Despite the craziness, everyone makes me laugh. And to top it all off...I made a special friend down the street from my parents house! !

Now that I'm back home and getting ready for work I started to plan ahead for the month of December. The three weeks of teaching before Christmas break always go so, so, so FAST! I created and updated some products, so that I can teach "How To" writing to my second graders.  The first packet is an oldie, but a goodie! It is my original "Peanut Butter and Jelly "How To" Writing Unit.  It is a week-long unit that is a blast to do in your classroom! I've had this in my store for a while, but now it's updated with newer texts, borders, and formatting.

Click on the picture or click HERE to download this packet

I also took some time to create a camping unit to support our new curriculum, Wonders. In second grade, Unit 3, Week 2 the curriculum introduces stories that are all about the nighttime sky, camping, stars, and the sun.  To support this week I created a mini literacy unit on camping for my second graders to do while they read through Wonders awesome stories. I know there are a lot of camping materials and ideas floating around out in the TpT and blogging world, but I have to say that my packet is specifically made for second grade. It is working on the following skills: "how to" writing, similes, present tense verbs, sight words, compound words, comp skills (including: key details, problem and solution, and plot).  

click on the picture or click HERE to download this product. 

It has literacy games, such as sight word fishing and a board game called "Cliff Hangers" that can be added to your L.A. Center stations. I know my kids have much more fun playing games, than doing worksheets.  They interact more, discuss the answers, and use socialization as a way to practice and learn their skills. Here are a few of the games included in the packet:

And of course, included is a week long "how to" unit on making s'mores! It is taught in the same way as the PBJ how to writing unit, but with ooey, gooey, delicious s'mores. 

Check out these great products and more at my TpT site and enjoy a SUPER CYBER SALE, which will be going on from December 1st through December 2nd.  My store will be 20 percent off and you can get additional discounts from TpT by typing the promo code: TPTCYBER.  ENJOY!!!

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gobble Gobble! Getting Ready for Thanksgiving Centers

I have been soooo stressed lately.  It should probably be an indicator that I need to go to the gym, do some yoga, or take a bath; instead I end up eating more comfort food, drinking more coffee, and eating all the candy we have leftover from Halloween.  I've pretty much given up hope on eating healthy until after Christmas.  And one more thing that makes me want to cuddle up, not move, and eat lots of hearty meals....uh it is 20 degrees tonight in Pennsylvania - with a "feels like 10 degrees" because of the wind chill.  Now, we get weather like this is PA, but it isn't usually until January!!!  I wasn't ready for this!!! I ended up safety-pinning my winter coat today, because I never sewed on my buttons that fell off last year. Yikes, it was a sight to see, but at least it kept me kind of warm. And to add on to my was the day of our 6 day cycle that my kids don't have a I have no prep time.....then they cancelled recess because it was too cold for them to go out....soooooo I had a full day with NO break.  I literally RAN across the hall so that I could fit in a bathroom break in the afternoon, because let's be honest, I cannot hold my pee for 3 hours straight (especially since I drink 2-3 Nalgene bottles of water a day). Sorry, was that potty talk TMI? Oh wait, one more thing to add to my list of complaints and then I promise I'm cards are due this week! AHHHHH! After all of these things that make my head spin I had one little girl who handed me a sweet little note at the end of the day, which made me remember why I love teaching primary.  It doesn't take away my stress, but it definitely makes me feel better about why I work so hard.   I really have the sweetest group of second graders.  They are all so kind, caring, and considerate of everyone in our classroom family.   Wouldn't a note like this make you smile, too?

With all that said, I thought that I'd give out some freebies that I've been working on in all my spare time, haha! (that was a joke).  The first one goes along with an awesome freebie that The Peanut Gallery created.  I loved her thanksgiving dinner prompts, but I wanted this to be an independent center, so I made a writing template for it.  Here is a picture of her freebie (click on the picture to go to TpT to download her freebie):

Here is the freebie that I posted that goes along with her ideas! Click on the pictures below to go to TpT and download this if you'd like to print out the writing template that goes with her prompts! 


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