Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Importance of Questioning

Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is to never stop questioning.” Einstein is also noted for saying, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” Einstein believed that questioning and curiosity were the catalyst to learning. Trying to find answers requires a person to think. The more questions that are asked, the more thinking occurs.

The key to questioning is asking the proper questions. Questions should spark curiosity. Curiosity will ignite a fire to learn more. It is so easy for a teacher to ask the basic, lower level “right there” questions. These questions simply require students to regurgitate information they have been given. These questions may be “In which year was President Obama elected President?” “Who was President Obama’s Vice President?” “What color was Goldilocks’ hair?” “How many bears were in the house?” These questions simply require a student to look at text and pick out the answer. There is not a lot of thought put into providing the answers. Are these questions necessary? Yes they are! They are initiate recall, the first step to higher order thinking.

Higher order thinking questions are questions that require students to put together information that they have to formulate an answer. “How did his reaction to the crying child cause the child to stop crying?” requires a level of thinking beyond asking, “What did he do to get the child to stop crying?”  Both questions will provide the same basic information, but the former requires a student to analyze the information provided rather than simply recall it as with the latter question.

To assist students with their thinking, ask why questions: “Why did you think that was correct?” “Why do you believe that was the incorrect choice?” “Why did you put those pieces together instead of using the other pieces?” Asking why questions will encourage students to show understanding of what they know, apply the knowledge, and then evaluate its accuracy in relation to what they know and what they understand the question to be asking.

The highest level of questioning requires students to sort through information/knowledge they have, determine how it can best be organized and utilized, and then produce an answer based on evidence they have gleaned from their answers. These questions will be in the order of “What was the most exciting part in the story and why?” “What do you think would happen if children could make all the decisions about school?” “How could you determine which method is the best for building permanent friendships?” “What information is needed to decide the best route to school?”

Many reading this bog are thinking “That’s good for older students, but what about the lower grades, like Pre-K through second grade?” Proper questioning works for those students as well. The vocabulary will naturally change, but the type of thinking will be the same. Ask “What if…” or “How would…” or “Why is…” or “What would you do if…” These questions will generate all sorts of possibilities, but most of all these questions will generate thinking.

Never be so quick to answer the question yourself. Some students need think time. Others will realize if they are quiet for more than a second, they will not need to provide an answer. Should you inadvertently answer the question, then ask the student why that answer was the correct response. This type of questioning may cause you and your students to feel uncomfortable at first. However, if you practice enough this becomes the norm for your teaching, then students will learn to anticipate this type of questioning and start thinking outside of the traditional box.

Engage your students by questioning. Ask open-ended questions rather than the recall and remember ones. Challenge your students to think, but be prepared for them to challenge your thinking as well.

Kathy Drew is a fourth grade teacher in Wayne County Public Schools. She received her Bachelors in Elementary Education from the University of West Florida, in Pensacola, Florida and her Masters in Elementary Education from Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She is a National Board Certified Teacher. She was  selected as a 2016 Wayne County MODEL Educator (Master Educator, Obligation to a Respectful Learning Environment, Demonstrates Leadership, Effective Instructor, and Lifelong Learner). She serves as the Region 2 Director of NCAEE and is one of the original founders of the organization,

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Make Learning Memorable

It has been a long time since I have blogged, but my to-do list has been so long!  No more excuses!  It is the beginning of the school year and time for some inspiration!

In this time of instant gratification, online gaming, less family face-time, and less communication, we need to inspire our students by giving them something to go home and talk to their families about.  It is time to make learning memorable!  You can't be "Super Teacher" every day of your career, but if you aren't causing students to go home thinking their day was amazing, we aren't inspiring their creativity.

Last school year I wanted to make our Space unit more memorable and make a real difference in our school.  I really wanted to take my students to a Planetarium for a field trip, but we were maxed out on the number of trips we could take.  I ran across an idea on Pinterest for a cardboard planetarium from Beals Science.

Using their amazing plans, I wrote a Donors Choose for some of the supplies, which was funded pretty quickly.  I contacted a cardboard company that is right around the corner from our school.  They were the nicest people and they donated all of the cardboard (plus lots of extra)!  I made templates with my kids, then let them measure and trace the templates on the huge cardboard.  For safety reasons I cut the cardboard all by myself and scored the flaps.  I drilled holes where the rivets were supposed to go.

We started attaching the panels together in the classroom, but quickly had to move to the media center to complete the hexagons and pentagons.  On day 1 of building, I quickly realized that the rivets were not going to hold the very thick cardboard.  I had to run to the hardware store after school and get zip ties to try on day 2.  Zip ties worked and with a lot of effort from the kids and multiple staff members (thanks to everyone at my school that helped!) we were able to put it all together!

The cardboard was the extremely thick and durable kind, so it was very heavy.  Also, third graders are not perfect when it comes to tracing and I was not perfect when it came to cutting, so I needed to do some reinforcing inside.  I went back to the hardware store and bought PVC pipe and 3 way connectors to make a cube inside the dome before I allowed students inside.

Once it was built, we viewed some planet videos inside so we could see the dome in action!  It was amazing!  We also shared it with the other grade levels in our building as space is covered in First grade, Third Grade, and Fourth Grade.  A few other grade levels visited too!

My students remember this activity fondly because they learned about geometry and the importance of precision in measuring, tracing, and cutting.  They also learned about perseverance when it came to building this huge dome and how even the best laid plans have to be revised to complete a project.  They also successfully learned about space and the planets in an innovative way.

As kids walked into my classroom on the first day of school this year, I overheard several of them mentioning that I was the teacher that built the planetarium and completed some other cool school-wide projects last year.  This school year I am already making plans to build a reusable dome out of PVC pipes and connectors!  I already have the connectors funded through a Donors Choose and I am asking local pipe manufacturers to donate the pipes for us.

Megan Charlton is a third grade teacher at Patriots STEM Elementary School in Concord, NC.  She also serves on the NCAEE Board. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Principal’s Picks Section in the Media Center

By Peggy Sherman
“I want a Principal’s Picks section In the Media Center.” This request was made by my principal in March. This was my first year working as the Media Coordinator at my school even though I have worked in education for over 40 years. I pictured a few books placed on a table with a sign reading, “Principal’s Picks.” Didn’t sound difficult. I figured a few minutes work, and the request would be fulfilled.

I started by choosing some books that would appeal to a wide range of readers. I love books so narrowing the choices to just a few was a challenge. I figured I would need fiction and nonfiction, books that would appeal to both boys and girls, various reading levels, and more. The pile grew as I pulled books off the shelves.

After much thought I had the pile of books down to eight. Great! Now I would display the books, add a sign, and students would be checking out the Principal’s Picks. Then it occurred to me: as soon as a student picked a book off the shelf to check out, I would be searching for another book to replace it. I pictured choosing books daily to replenish the display. Not going to happen!

I decided that I would feature the books for a round of media classes with no checkout allowed for these books. However, the only thing that would accomplish was prolonging the inevitable. I would still be choosing new books to feature for Principal’s Picks more often than was reasonable in my mind. 

That is when I came up with the solution that lasted for the rest of the school year. I took individual pictures of all the book covers. Then I sent the pictures to my school email account. I printed them and made copies. I made copies because in most cases I did not get the sizing correct before printing. It was easier for me to do this on the copy machine. I used eight page protectors and slipped the pictures inside. I taped the filled page protectors to the display table and stood the books on top of the pictures. Now when books from the Principal’s Pick section are checked out, students are still able to see the books that were recommended by the principal. One change I plan to make for next year is printing the pictures in color. I also plan to feature twelve books and move the display table to a more central location.

Peggy Sherman is the Media Coordinator and MTSS Coordinator of her school. She has also served on the NCAEE Board for several years.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

My Wonder Project

Inquiry opportunities provide students with opportunities to do research, collaborate, build interest and connect to real world issues.  In Elementary School settings, K- 2 teachers can set up inquiry stations so that children can enter in the mornings and choose to be curious from the start like the amazing Aubrey DiOrio and Caitlin McCommons in Wake County!  I learn so much from their leadership in Wake County, NC at Brier Creek Elementary School!  They piqued my interest on “Inquiry for Littles” at the 2018 NCTIES Conference which I blogged about and shared with my K-2 teachers.

Teachers can set up a more formal opportunity to explore topics that students generate based on their interests.  One way that I set this up is to have my Grades 3 - 5 students explore, choose a topic that they want to know more about and take notes on the topic in a Google Sheet.  I show them how to copy and paste the web address in the address bar into their Google Sheet along with their Question from Wonderopolis and a Summary of their reading.  I love Wonderopolis because it has topics organized by categories like Science, Technology, Social Studies and ELA.  Plus, a new article is written every day, Monday - Friday, and posted to Wonderopolis’ website!  Children can even listen to the article as a voice reads it aloud to support comprehension.

I model this process for my students by first sharing a topic about which I am interested that I found at
I place my Question in my Google Sheet of “Why is world hunger still a problem?” and summarize the Wonderopolis text in my Summary column of my Google Sheet.  Next, I show students a print resource called Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier.  After reading it aloud, I type a summary in my Summary section of my Google Sheet and include the name of the book.  In this book, a charity organization named Heifer International, provides a goat to a family in Uganda, Africa.  This goat provides milk and allows the family to sell the goat’s milk and milk products from the goat to members of their rural community.  The money that they make allows the family to send the daughter, Beatrice, to the community school and provides materials to build a sturdy house for Beatrice’s family.

Next, I go to and typed in Heifer International to learn more about this organization helps people around the world.  I love to also share a video about how to analyze a website using the acronym TRAAP which means:
T - Timeliness
R - Relevance
A - Accuracy
A - Author
P - Purpose

We analyze which we found at the Sweet Search website and determine that it passes the TRAAP test.  I add this website as a resource to my Google Sheet and then summarize information that I learn about this organization in my Google Sheet. I am now ready to copy and paste my summaries into digital projects or record myself on Flipgrid to explain what I learned.

Once students had researched at least three topics at Wonderopolis, I had them choose their favorite topic to show what they had learned.  I have bookmarked at my website and placed in their Google Classroom a list of kid friendly search engines so that student could search for additional information on their topic found here:
-Sweet Search
-Safe Search Kids

As a way to have students share what they learned, I have students go to to create a digital project to showcase information learned.  I would show an example of a Trading Card and a Movie Poster that I would create using Big Huge Labs' website.  We pretend that a movie has been made about how to end world hunger and use my summary in the Big Huge Labs Movie Poster.

I also have children search for images for their Trading Card or Movie Poster at and go to Advanced Search to filter for free images to copy and share.  Once I place the images in the Trading Card and Movie Poster, I copy and paste the poster into a Google Slide or Google Doc.  Kids could also do a shared Google Slide presentation and be assigned a slide where they would paste their Trading Card or Movie Poster about their Wonder Topic.  I love the versatility of the tools in Big Huge Labs because they allow children to create a quick project after reading about any topic, but in this case, they would have chosen a Wonder Topic at Wonderopolis.

I also give them choices to create Word Clouds using their Summaries.  Here is my Word Cloud Summary from “Beatrice’s Goat”:

Children are naturally inquisitive and want to know more about the world.  Giving them safe search sites and a note taking scaffold will help them as they continue to read for information and dive deep into inquiry.  They love to share what they have learned with others in Flipgrid and in shared Google Slides along with other tools like SeeSaw.  How do you provide opportunities for Inquiry and Wonder Projects with your students?

Bio of Lisa Maples:
Lisa Maples is the K-5 Technology Teacher at Elon Park Elementary in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and a former 3rd and 4th Grade Teacher in Greensboro, Raleigh and Charlotte.  She is a National Board Certified Teacher and holds a Master's Degree in Reading from UNC-Greensboro.  As an NCTIES 2016 Outstanding Teacher Award recipient, a 2014 PBS Learning Media Digital Innovator and a Google Certified Educator, she provides multiple creation opportunities for students to create and make with Cubetto Robots, Sphero Robots, Code and Go Robots, Lego WeDo 2.0 kits, Keva blocks,  iPads, Chromebooks and Desktop computers.  Visit her blog to see reflections on her lessons at and follow her on Twitter at @edu_maples.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

How should teachers use technology? Three ways to Strain out Unfocused Digital Learning Experiences

     I am an awful chef. One time, I was particularly excited about cooking a delicious pasta and vegetable recipe. However, when my taste-tester took his first bite, it was watery and the tastes were murky. Apparently, when you use canned peas, you are supposed to drain the pea water. Who knew? Well, when utilizing technology in the classroom, teachers sometimes use the latest digital tools without straining to determine the purpose of integrating the tool.
     Why does integrating technology bring upon sweaty palms even for the most competent chefs of educational pedagogy? Without setting an intention for the use of a specific digital tool, your lesson will water down the ultimate learning goal. According to ISTE standards for Students, students are labeled as “global collaborators” who “use technology seek feedback” with the goal of becoming “empowered learners.”

     I am sharing three ways to streamline the goal of utilizing digital goals to create a recipe of technology-integration success.

1. To Show Understanding: EdPuzzle (my favorite)
EDPuzzle allows students to view digital media with specific learning goals. Teachers can cut the video, add multiple choice/ short answer questions, and add voice overs/ comments. Teachers are able to either search from curated videos or develop their own by uploading videos and then provide digital feedback on student responses.

2. To Demonstrate Understanding: Mindmeister (digital organizers)
MindMeister has unlimited uses. Overall, it allows students to collaborate on a digital web that organizes information much like the synapses of the brain. Students can add questions and information, answer other students, or organize learning collaboratively.

3. To Experience Learning at a High Level: Weebly (online website builder)
Weebly’s simple interface and organized tool bar allows for quick website construction. Weebly allows you to drag and drop website elements onto the page almost like Lego construction.
     Gaming through Government, a Weebly learning experience that I designed, utilizes digital gaming, digital media on Edpuzzle, fast-paced quizzes on Quizizz, and a paper and pencil learning guide for students to document learning. The storyline of Gaming through Government is presented to students as an authentic context for playing the games, learning the content, and ultimately passing the five levels. Throughout the unit, students earn points to increase their rank from an intern to eventually the president. At the end of each level, students complete a Quizizz to demonstrate understanding of the learning goals.

My Findings
Students’ assessment scores increased by over 400%
91 % of students thought Gaming through Government was an effective educational experience
94% of students determined that learning experiences like Gaming through Government should be used in the classroom

     Even though I utilized several pedagogical strategies including game-based learning, gamified learning, and multiple digital tools, I strained out the extraneous elements that could have muddied the learning goals.  Just as you would add peas to a recipe, but do not want the whole dish taste like pea water, you want to add digital tools to a lesson, but with a clear goal in implementing the digital tool.

About the Author:
Rebecca Koza is in her 6th year teaching. She is currently a 5th grade teacher at The Arts Based School in Winston-Salem. She attended Wake Forest University where she earned a Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education with minors in dance and communication.  Rebecca also has her Master of Science in Education focused in Technology for Educators from Johns Hopkins University and her AIG certification from Wingate University. Rebecca enjoys using the arts and technology to develop high-level learning experiences for students.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

MTSS: It’s School Improvement!

The newest “buzz word” lingering in the halls of schools these days seems to be “MTSS.” While we have a generalized perception of what is meant by the greater realm of Multi-Tiered System of Support, do we really understand all that it entails? Is it as complicated as it seem, and does it truly hold the magical answers we are looking for?
Because MTSS takes shape in a school as a framework of understanding and conceptualization rather than a process, individual schools have many ways to develop and design their structures with an overall goal of total school improvement. In many instances, MTSS has been given an improper descriptor as “the road to EC.” While much of it may focus on early intervention for both academic and behavioral needs, MTSS runs much deeper in schools. MTSS is truly comprised of anything within the school that plays a part in school improvement.

So, how does MTSS affect school improvement anyway?

School Culture: Morale and sense of belonging play an important role in school improvement for all stakeholders. Teacher appreciation recognitions, school clubs and dances, and annual community events create safe environments for school families and allow for everyone to be positively engaged. Creating such environments only enhances the culture of a school and, ultimately, works toward school improvement. School culture, in this respect, is a key factor of effective MTSS structures.

Teaming Structures: MTSS relies heavily on a problem-solving model. The use of teaming structures within a school justifies that school concerns have been thoughtfully considered and dealt with accordingly. School improvement teams, climate committees, professional learning communities, and grade level or departmental committees are just a few examples of how everyone having a voice to arrive at a decision outweighs a “one and done” leadership initiative. Teaming structures are vital for problem-solving and promoting school improvement initiatives.

Data-Informed Decision-Making: These days, it seems almost impossible to make any decision without reason to do so. Data is essential in all aspects of teaching, and the appropriate use of data spotlights effective MTSS structures throughout a school. Turning to both student outcome data (class assignments, grades, assessment scores) and implementation data (fidelity checks, walkthrough information) when making decisions only clarifies the purpose and need for making the chosen “next steps.” The use of data directly correlates with school improvement.

Community Involvement: With the rising financial demands of schools, it is nearly impossible to thrive without the support of the community. Reaching out to community members and businesses to support school functions, staff and student recognitions, or to serve on the School Improvement Team are simple ways to involve the community and develop mutually beneficial relationships. Involvement of the community has great impact on school improvement.

Yes, intervention has an important role on MTSS, but the framework has the ability to be much broader than that. Because it is synonymous with school improvement, anything that improves the overall function of the school is ultimately deemed MTSS. There are so many ways our daily routines and actions create an MTSS framework.

About the Author:
Lynn Plummer serves as the MTSS Coordinator for Stanly County Schools and is the secretary of North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators. A North Carolina Teaching Fellow, Plummer taught kindergarten and third grade before serving as an elementary curriculum coach. Upon earning his Master of School Administration from UNC Charlotte in 2015, Plummer began working district-wide with schools, supporting MTSS initiatives and efforts. Join in all things education by following him @lwplummer and learn more about NC MTSS in the Livebinder.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Region 5 Conference

Plant it!  On April 19th, NCAEE Region 5 educators came together for fun, food, and fellowship all centered around planting a growth mindset in our classrooms.  Breakout sessions included topics such as establishing a growth mindset in the content area classroom and growing teacher leaders. Bruce Carroll and Aaron Burr, Davidson County administrators, presented on teacher leadership and said the conference had “energetic participants that clearly cared about self growth and building their capacity to affect the students in their care.” Going along with the growth mindset theme, attendee Janell Willard said the workshop she joined “emphasized the ‘power of yet,’ the key to our students' success in everyday problem solving and STEM activities.”

Keynote Michael Beadle wowed the crowd with an interactive poetic presentation.  In celebration of April being National Poetry Month, Michael performed the poem, “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll with the assistance of audience members.  The audience volunteers hilariously put their spin on Michael’s recommended character movements, which reinforced how interactive poetry is engaging for children and adults. As one attendee said, “something simple like a poem… can turn into a dynamic experience for your students.” Michael’s enthusiasm for poetry was a refreshing reminder of the power of poetry for many struggling students.

Another takeaway was Michael’s explanation of “amateur.”  The root word for “amateur” is “amor” which means love.  As a teacher, it is an important reminder that we must work within our passion to educate students. Having a growth mindset is not only significant in the classroom, but also across our careers.

5 Fantastic Facts about Michael:
-       A+ Schools Fellow
-       Author of 5 poetry books, a poetry CD, and 3 historic photograph books
-       Former journalist
-       Touring writer-in-residence
-       Emcee for the N.C. Poetry Out Loud state finals

Michael personally inspired me with his “vowels” for the classroom.

Our diverse population of attendees provided a glimpse into what our conference was like.

Parent/ Classroom Paraprofessional
“I was curious to learn all about the power of YET! I learned some techniques that would help foster a growth mindset to use in all aspects of life.” – Carolyn Pack

Salem College Professor
“From engaging and informative presentations, a delicious dinner, time of networking, and door prize drawings, to the closing keynote by award-winning performing poet, participants were motivated and inspired to return to their classrooms and sow the seeds of a growth mindset!” – Debbie Linville

Principal Intern
“The conference definitely provided a space for us to explore the true meaning behind ‘growth mindset’ and made me think about how I can better convey this message to my teachers.” – Chris Terzigni

5th Grade Teacher
“The sessions led conversations on how to best reinforce growth mindset in the classroom in order to ensure that students recognize the impacts of hard work and effort.” - Becky Koza

Regional Advisory Council Member
"Our conference has always been a great way to network with other teachers and administrators in the area.” – Alysha Christian

High Point University Student Teacher
"As a new teacher, I especially appreciate any chance to hear from others, so I can evaluate my practices and hone them for my own classroom." – Courtney Hedgecock

About the Author
Leni Fragakis is the Region 5 Director of NCAEE. She currently teaches 5th grade at The Arts Based School. Leni has her BA (Elementary Education, minor Special Education), MEd (Literacy), and administration add-on from High Point University.  She is working toward her EdD in cultural foundations and leadership from UNCG.