Sunday, December 1, 2013

Looking Ahead to the 2014 Elementary School Conference

Help NCAEE Plan Next Year's Conference!

Did you attend the 2013 Elementary School Conference in Greensboro? It was an amazing event with over 70 sessions, a terrific Keynote, and over 450 enthusiastic attendees. Last year our theme was "Common Core and So Much More," which described our sessions perfectly.

Seeking a Conference Theme for 2014
Now we're looking ahead to the 2014 Elementary School Conference which will be held at the Charlotte - Concord Embassy Suites Resort. We want to find the perfect theme because this decision will guide us in selecting our keynote, featured speakers, and sessions. We've mulled over a few ideas, but we haven't made a final decision yet. Above all, we want something upbeat and inspirational that will set the tone for an amazing conference. Since we've used the Common Core in our theme for the past few years we are not planning to include it this year although we'll offer sessions on Common Core topics.

Share Your Suggestions and Enter to Win!
This is YOUR conference too, so we've decided to open the discussion up to our past and future participants to see what you think. To stimulate your creative juices and get you thinking, we've decided to give away one free conference registration (valued at $150) to the first person to suggest the theme we select for the conference. If we don't select a theme from the ideas shared here, we'll do a random drawing of all entrants so that someone will win the free conference registration.

To clarify what we want, we are seeking a theme that consists of a short phrase or several words. A theme is more than a one-word topic and it's usually not a complete sentence. We need a stand-alone phrase that makes a clear statement about what the Elementary School Conference will offer in 2014.

Perhaps a better place to begin would be to ask what you hope to see at the conference this coming year. Would you like us to bring back a favorite speaker or offer sessions on a specific topic? Do you know of a great keynote speaker you would like to recommend? We would love to hear all of your suggestions, and understanding what you want from this conference will help us find the perfect theme.

How to Submit Conference Themes and/or Suggestions
To submit your theme ideas or share suggestions for the 2014 conference, please click the Google Doc link and fill out the form. The entry form will close when we have found the perfect theme for the 2014 conference! We will add all email addresses submitted to our newsletter list to keep you informed about the coming conference including the which theme we select. We look forward to a terrific conference in the fall of 2014!

Laura Candler
NCAEE President 2013-2014

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Energized by the Elementary School Conference!

Guest blog post by Giselle Mansi

“A teacher is a compass that activates the magnets of curiosity, knowledge, and wisdom in the pupils” -- Ever Garrison

This year I was privileged to attend the 10th annual North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators Elementary School Conference held on October 20th though the 22nd. Before I begin sharing with you about the remarkable experience that I had, I just need to give a big shout out to everyone who partook in organizing this magnificent event! ‘Kudos’ to the NCAEE officers and regional directors for throwing down the house-- teacher style!!

As a college senior and future educator, I cannot begin to tell you the amount of resources that I took away from this conference! From learning just about everything about “rice” through stations, to learning about how my students can participate on the NC Science Olympiad, to celebrating diversity through children’s literature, to creating a prosthetic hand out of forks, spoons, and popsicle sticks, to feeling like a child again after creating all sorts of foldables and lastly, to remembering the reason why I decided to go into teaching in the first place and remembering to find those bright spots in our lives… these workshops were just a glimpse of how much I learned and took away from the conference. Not to mention, all the other great workshops that my friends also attended and enjoyed!

Additionally, I had the opportunity to listen and learn from our keynote speaker Kelly Bergam who was the highlight of my conference experience! Reminding myself to have humor in life and to take baby steps when the load gets heavy were some of the wonderful tips that Kelly gave us throughout her presentation. How many times have we felt being on the verge of ‘breakdown’ because we were trying to juggle deadlines, commitments with our professional and personal lives alongside with anything else that may come along unexpectedly? I know I have had quite a few of those moments myself and that’s why sometimes it is important to pause and enjoy the moment. When life gets overwhelming, take one step at a time. Take a minute to relax, breathe, prioritize, and find the joy in what you do! As I once heard, sometimes we get so focused on the finish line, that we fail to enjoy the journey!

I am so appreciative of all the presenters who took time to prepare and put on amazing workshops for all of us! Honestly, I enjoyed all of them so much and I got so many good resources from all of them! If any of you were in the “Gearing Up for Engineering” session, you know how challenging, but engaging, that workshop was! I will never forget building a prosthetic hand out of random things. Great stuff I tell ya! I also took away some great classroom management ideas from Kelly’s session that she did right after her presentation and loved how she kept reinforcing her “baby steps” analogy to getting things done! In other words, one baby step at a time!

Also, here’s my sad moment of my entire conference experience… Ready? I cannot believe I missed Jennifer Jones’ blogging session! I’m still kicking myself about it! I follow her blog, and I LOVE everything she has on TeacherPayTeachers but somehow I missed the chance to FINALLY meet her in person!  (Some background info, Jen Jones is like my all-time celebrity blogger!)

Lastly, let me not forget to share a little something about all the freebies I took home during the conference! WOW! I hope everyone took a poster to use in the classroom. I know I did and I can’t wait to show it off! I hope everyone who attended had as much fun as I did and took plenty of ideas to implement in the classroom; otherwise, we fail to keep up with the needs of our students.

I’m already excited to attend the 2014 conference that will take place in October at the Charlotte-Concord Embassy Suites Resort. If you missed the conference this year for any reason, I highly recommend and invite you to attend next year’s conference! I promise you will not regret it. Even if you are afraid of going alone, don’t be. You will meet many others the minute you get there and they will make you feel right at home. Until then, I hope everyone has a great rest of the year and enjoy all the many festivities that November and December bring…

Giselle Mansi is currently perusing her Elementary M.Ed. with a literacy concentration at High Point University.  She is the President of the High Point University NCAEE cohort and is a member on the Regional Advisory Council for Region 5.  Giselle is a dedicated teacher and is committed to helping spread the word about the benefits associated with being a member of the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators.  

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Coping with Teaching and Testing to New Standards

In education, change is a way of life…

As you know, the old NC Standard Course of Study has morphed into the overhauled Standard Course of Study, which comprises the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the NC Essential Standards (NCES). These new standards establish educational learning targets aimed at ensuring that all students are prepared for success in college and work.

You know… the “21st Century Skills" we’ve heard so much about during the last decade or so.

The NC State Board of Education mandated that the CCSS and the NCES be taught and assessed starting with the 2012-2013 school year. Large-scale testing for the CCSS is set to launch in fall 2014.

These new standards call for a significant elevating of learning expectations that focus on deeper understanding of content and higher levels of thinking and application… for both students AND teachers!

Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005) describe two types of changes that take place when innovations are introduced into schools. They use the terms first-order change and second-order change to describe the magnitude and implications of changes for the educators who are expected to implement them or for those individuals who will be impacted by the changes.

First-order change is a logical extension of past practices and can be put into place with current levels of knowledge and skills. This type of change is superficial and incremental and does not require educators to do things in significantly different ways. In first-order change, the current situation is tweaked only a little bit at a time.

Conversely, second-order change is “transformational” and necessitates a fundamental departure from past practices. For successful implementation, second-order changes require individuals to acquire new knowledge and skills in order to bring about dramatic differences in practices from those currently being used.

Would you agree that teaching and testing to the new standards are examples of “second-order change?”

How are you coping with this new reality? What changes must you make in your teaching in order to ensure that your students meet the higher expectations of the new standards? What short-term and long-term steps can you take to make positive changes in your teaching practices?

Helping You Cope with Transformational Change

There’s one fantastic opportunity to help you cope with transformational change coming up very soon…

Could you benefit from participating in a powerful learning experience? Why not consider attending the 10th Annual Elementary School Conference coming to the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro on October 20-22, 2013?

As you may know, the Elementary School Conference is hosted by the NC Association of Elementary Educators (NCAEE). This volunteer organization is the only one in our state, and one of only a few in that nation, dedicated to meeting the needs of elementary educators and students.

The theme for this year’s Elementary School Conference is "Common Core and So Much More!" The conference strands focus in on topics of interest to most elementary educators: Common Core, Essential Standards, Teacher Leadership, Supporting Diversity, and Technology in Education. Click here to take a look at the fantastic sessions being offered this year.

If you haven't yet registered for the conference, you can do so from the NCAEE website. There is a team discount available: pay for four attendees and get one free. Attending a conference with a group can be terrific fun as well as enlightening! Download the Team Discount form for details.

If you are not sure if your school has funds available now, it is possible for you to attend the Elementary School Conference in October and pay later. This year you can attend in October and pay as late as November 15th if you have an administrator sign and send in a Payment Authorization Form. Read about this offer on the NCAEE blog.

Plus, are you looking for ways to demonstrate your leadership in the profession? You know… Standard I of the NC Professional Teaching Standards on which you are evaluated each year.

If so, then consider joining the NCAEE Team! If you would like to take on an active role in our organization, we currently are seeking Regional Advisory Council members in many of the eight regions of NC. Find out how you can get involved by reading the blog post about this. We would love to have you join our team!

If you have not done so already, sign up for the NCAEE newsletter to receive updates throughout the year.

We hope to see you at the 10th Annual Elementary School Conference in Greensboro in a few weeks!

Dr. Sara Coble Simmons is the Founding President of NCAEE (2005-2006) and remains actively involved by serving as the At-Large Professor member of the Board of Directors. A former elementary teacher, she has been involved in various facets of education in three different states. She holds a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas at Austin. She is past dean of graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and currently is a full-time professor in the School of Education at UNCP. At the upcoming Elementary School Conference, Dr. Simmons will be presenting a breakout session entitled “Putting it All Together: Teaching to the Standards in NC.” She can be reached by email (

Marzano, R. J., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. A. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Kids Improve Health as They Walk and Learn

Guest blog post by Laura Fenn 

“It’s even better than Mario Brothers!”

"Sometimes you get distracted by the groundhogs, but you can always press 'back' so you can concentrate."

“I did not realize how much empty calories affect my body.”

The above quotes are taken directly from letters written by fifth grade students about their experience with The Walking Classroom. The Walking Classroom is an award-winning nonprofit program that increases students’ physical activity, builds core content knowledge, and provides teachers with an educational tool that addresses different learning styles.

How?  Well, it’s quite simple, actually.

Children are active learners as they walk briskly while listening to Common Core-aligned podcasts on pre-loaded audio devices called “WalkKits.”  The WalkKits come loaded with a school year’s worth of kid-friendly, educational podcasts, and the entire class enjoys a walk while listening to the same podcast (not during recess or PE!). Each podcast begins with a brief health literacy message and all are supported by an extensive lesson plan that includes a comprehension quiz. Our program is currently being used by thousands of fifth graders across the country, and it's funded in large part through donations and grants from companies that support initiatives to improve physical fitness in our nation's youth.

How Your School Can Apply for a Walkkit Grant 
If you are a NC teacher, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina and the North Carolina PTA might be able to help you bring the program to your school! The kits are only available for fifth graders right now, but a fourth grade program will be available later this fall. Every year, BlueCross BlueShield of North Carolina offers an equipment-only grant cycle. Grant applications for equipment that will increase students’ physical activity are currently being accepted, and The Walking Classroom is featured on BCBSNC’s website as an example of equipment that would fall under their grant parameters. This is a wonderful opportunity for school PTAs to seek funding so that they can purchase The Walking Classroom program for their students.

The grant application is not too arduous, and we here at The Walking Classroom would be happy to help you and your PTA along with the process—just make sure you meet the requirements. According to the BCBSNC website:
  • Schools must be public K-12 education organizations
  • Schools must have a PTA in good standing or must actively be in the process of starting a PTA
  • For those schools with PTA organizations, the PTA must be the applicant organization
  • For those schools currently initiating a PTA organization, the school may be the applicant organization
  • Schools must have an active school wellness team
  • Schools must have a completed school wellness plan or actively be in the process of completing a school wellness plan
Schools Eligible for the Grant
To be eligible for the grant, your school must be located in one of the following counties: Beaufort, Bladen, Buncombe*, Chatham, Cherokee, Chowan, Currituck, Davie, Guilford*, Halifax, Hertford, Jackson, Madison, McDowell, Orange*, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Pender, Pitt*, Polk, Rockingham, Swain, Vance.
*Note: Schools in Buncombe, Guilford, Orange and Pitt counties must have a free and reduced lunch percentage of at least 60% of students.

More Details about the Blue Cross Blue Shield Grant
If your school meets the above requirements, The Walking Classroom will extend a discounted rate for the program.  Individual WalkKits and Teacher Guides are normally $100, but we will extend a 20% discount to grant applicants (i.e. a class set of 28 WalkKits and a Teacher’s Guide would be $2320 instead of the usual $2900).

If your grant application is funded by BCBSNC, your school would receive the check from BCBSNC by the end of November, at which point you’d be able to purchase The Walking Classroom with those funds!

If your school is eligible, I hope you and your PTA take advantage of this wonderful grant opportunity. Click the application link to get started. Completed applications are due by 5:00 pm October 7.

Learn More About The Walking Classroom
To learn more about The Walking Classroom, you can download the flyer on the right. If you would like to speak with me personally about the program, consider attending my session at the Elementary School Conference on Monday, October 21st. I'll also be available to answer questions at the Walking Classroom exhibitor booth throughout the conference.

If you’d like to “test drive” The Walking Classroom, 10 podcasts and lesson plans are available for free download from LearnNC, a program run by the University of North Carolina’s School of Education. If your school is not eligible for the Blue Cross Blue Shield grant, don't worry! We are continually seeking sponsors for our Walkkits, and we have a grant application you can fill out on our website to be added to a waiting list.

Good luck and happy trails!

Laura Fenn
Founder, The Walking Classroom

Laura Fenn, MS Ed, was a classroom teacher for 10 years. She is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Walking Classroom Institute, an educational nonprofit created BY a teacher FOR teachers. The program is dedicated to providing teachers with an easy to implement tool that improves the health and education of students.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Supporting Students With Behavioral Challenges

Guest blog post by Melissa Storm Edmiston, Ph.D.

If I could give you one tip for supporting students with behavioral challenges as your school year begins, it would be this—anticipate problem behavior and stop it before it begins!

The first step is setting up an effective classroom management system that is based on rewarding students for the appropriate behavior. This is the kind of system that is proven to work best for students who really struggle with behavioral challenges. A positive behavioral management system is based on giving students positive reinforcement for exhibiting proper behavior. Positive reinforcement can be tangible (e.g., rewards from a treasure box, stickers, pencils, small toys) or intangible (e.g., extra computer time, listening to music in the classroom, lunch with the teacher). Your classroom management plan should be tied to the overall school behavior plan so that there is consistency for students both in and out of the classroom. For more guidance on setting up a classroom management plan, take a look at this resource from Lori Newcomer, Ph.D., at the University of Missouri.

To get your school year off to a positive start and be proactive about behavior management in your classroom, you can do two significant things. First, you can teach behavioral expectations, social skills, and procedures. Second, you can adjust your classroom environment to meet the needs of all students, including those with behavioral challenges.

Teaching Behavioral Expectations, Social Skills, and Procedures

Sometimes we assume that students come to school understanding how they should behave. This is often not true, and one of the best ways to stop problem behavior before it begins is to directly teach students the behaviors you want to see in the classroom.

As you teach these skills, keep it positive. Students respond better to positive reinforcement than they do to negative statements. Rather than saying, “Don’t touch other students!” say, “Keeping your hands to yourself keeps everyone safe.” Tell students what you want them to do rather than what they shouldn’t do.

One of the most effective ways to teach behavioral expectations, social skills, and procedures is through modeling, coaching, and self-management. All three are connected. Here are the basics:

  • An adult or peer demonstrates the skill or behavior to be learned (e.g., walking through the hall appropriately).
  • The modeling may be contrived (e.g., a teacher says to a student, "I am going to show you how to walk appropriately through the hall" and follows this by walking down the hall with her arms by her side, going directly to the destination, looking ahead, and not talking. The teacher then stops and points out to the student all of the behaviors that were just modeled and shows the student again).
  • The modeling may be natural (e.g., while observing another class, a teacher says to a student, "Look how Annie is walking down the hall. She has her hands by her side, she is looking straight ahead, she goes directly to the library, and she is silent.").
  • A verbal explanation is given to the student to describe the skill that he or she is seeing. The student must be aware of the model and the correct behavior in order for it to be effective.
  • Coaching goes hand-in-hand with modeling:
  • As a student practices the skill, his teacher provides prompts when necessary (e.g., "Jordan, remember that your hands belong at your sides when you are walking down the hall.").
  • The teacher provides immediate feedback to the student on his progress toward the skill (e.g., "Jordan, you did a great job keeping your hands in place and going directly to the cafeteria. Next time, remember to do it silently.").
  • The teacher discusses the skill with the student so that the student can also provide feedback on how he did (e.g., "Jordan, how do you feel about how you walked down the hall today?" "Well, Teacher, I had some trouble keeping silent.").
  • Self-management is the ideal. You want students to manage their behavior and notice when they are doing it correctly (or not). Self-management is tied to coaching:
  • Students receive regular feedback on the skill in the beginning, and the teacher tapers off how often that feedback is offered as students refine the skill.
  • Students are given cues or a way to prompt themselves to remember the behavior and know when to use it (e.g., a series of pictures by the door shows appropriate walking behaviors that the student sees on the way out of the classroom).
  • Students are given a way to measure their behavior and reflect on whether they completed the skill or not (e.g., a checklist at the student's desk or in a notebook where the student can check off each element of appropriate hall walking and whether or not it was done).
  • Modeling, coaching, and self-management are tied together and provide strategies for students to begin to see what the correct behavior is, how to do it, when to do it, and to manage it themselves.

Adjust Your Classroom Environment

Adjusting your classroom environment also allows you to be proactive and to prevent problem behaviors before they occur. Thinking through how you use space, time, and materials and making sure that you are considering the needs of each of your students as you arrange your classroom and instructional schedule can go a long way in making students comfortable in the learning environment. Comfort can reduce anxiety. Reduced anxiety can reduce behavior problems.


  • Increase or decrease a student’s proximity to the teacher. Some students respond best to sitting right next to a teacher; others respond best to being further away. 
  • Define designated zones of the classroom (reading area, writing area, teacher workstation, etc.). Think about how furniture is arranged and can be rearranged.
  • Allow students to have alternate seating arrangements. Some students are more comfortable standing or sitting on cushions on the floor. Meeting these physical needs can help students feel comfortable and reduce acting out.
  • Think about traffic flow in the classroom and make sure that it can happen smoothly. If students bump into each other or are frequently interrupted by movement, this can lead to behavioral difficulty.
  • Make sure every student owns a desk or space to work that is free from distractions, and know what is distracting to each student (e.g., some students are sensitive to noise, while others cannot work well under fluorescent lights).
  • Allow students to invest in and have ownership of the classroom (this will increase responsibility and value of the space). You can do this by having them help decorate (design a bulletin board, create a reading space, etc.) or having a class pet (e.g., fish) that they help take care of.


  • Think about increasing or decreasing time allotments for certain tasks for some students, which can help decrease frustration.
  • Teach procedures and routines. Model them and reteach consistently.
  • Make sure that students understand timelines and schedules. Warn them when there will be schedule changes or any change to the routine.
  • Make sure that you include break times during instruction. For many students, 20 minutes is a maximum focus time.
  • Modify schedules so that intensive instruction occurs when students are most alert and ready to learn.


  • Supplement your curriculum with items that are of high interest to your students. Think about where you can bring in additional documents (newspapers, magazines), computer programs, or videos that can add to students’ understanding of a concept.
  • Provide multisensory materials. This includes online/computer materials, manipulatives, kinesthetic experiences (such as acting out a concept), and others. Many times students who have difficulty with behavioral issues will respond well with being able to touch materials or interact with them in a physical way.
  • Arrange materials in the classroom in a way that is accessible to all students. The frustration in trying to find a pencil can easily turn into a much larger behavior problem. If materials are right where students need them, it will minimize disruptions.

Finally, as you are considering your classroom environment, think about how to keep it a calm and peaceful space. Students will stay calmer in an environment that is calm. You are the role model, so make sure that your voice is calm and your actions are nonthreatening. In addition, think about lighting and the general feel of your classroom. Is it a welcoming space? Will students feel safe in your classroom? These are important considerations.

Melissa Storm Edmiston, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Analyst at the American Institutes for Research.  Her work focuses on training and support for schools, districts, and states on topics related to improving instruction for students with disabilities. Dr. Edmiston is a former special education teacher who holds an MA in Special Education and a PhD in Educational Psychology. She will present a breakout session on positive behavior supports for students with challenging behaviors at the 2013 NCAEE conference.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice

Guest Blog Post by Kitty Rutherford

The Standards for Mathematical Practice impact all math teaching and learning. They focus on what it means for students to be mathematically proficient.  I have heard many say the Standards for Mathematical Practice are the heart and soul of the Common Core State Standards. These standards describe student behaviors, ensure an understanding of math, focus on the development of reasoning, and building mathematical communication.  Each standard has a unique focus, but each standard is also interwoven with the others as we put them into practice. These practices empower students to use math and to think mathematically. Our job as a teacher is to help students develop these practices to become effective mathematicians.

The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students. These practices rest on important “processes and proficiencies” with longstanding importance in mathematics education. The first of these are the NCTM process standards of problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and connections. The second are the strands of mathematical proficiency specified in the National Research Council’s report Adding It Up: adaptive reasoning, strategic competence, conceptual understanding (comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations and relations), procedural fluency (skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently and appropriately), and productive disposition (habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy).

The Standards for Mathematical Practice are a significant focus of Common Core State Standards. These eight practices describe the thinking processes, habits of mind, and dispositions that students need to develop a deep, flexible, and enduring understanding of mathematics.

One way to build a deep understanding of the Standards for Mathematical Practice is to read one practice at a time and reflect on the following questions:
  1. Why is this practice important?
  2. What does this practice look like when students are doing it?
  3. How can a teacher model this practice?
  4. What could a teacher do within a lesson to encourage students in this practice?
  5. How can you assess proficiency in this practice?

Before Common Core State Standards were implemented, I visited a few fourth grade mathematics classrooms.  I provided a high-leverage math task, students worked collaboratively together to solve.  I then introduced the Standards for Mathematical Practice by explaining to the students that these standards were practices that mathematicians do to help them excel in mathematical thinking. I asked them to think about the task they just solved, if they were to explain to someone what that practice meant or looked like how would they do it.

After some discussion, students created posters to represent their thinking about the Mathematical Practices. In this task students explored prime or composite by building possible rectangular arrays for numbers 1-25.

These are some of the posters students created after the task and much discussion.

Which products are composite and which are prime? I’ll think of products that have one factor pair and which have more than one factor pair.

This number is prime so it only has 1 array for the number.  
This number has 2 arrays so it must be composite.
Using correct math language to explain your thinking is important

In another fourth grade classroom students were given the task of finding the perimeter of a figure. These were the posters of the Standards for Mathematical Practice they created.

Make sense of problems and 
persevere in solving them.


 Model with Mathematics.

If I’m going to tile the perimeter, how many pieces of tile will I need?
Do these side lengths make sense?

Model with Mathematics.

These color tiles help me to find the missing sides so I can write an equation to find the perimeter.

I noticed a blond-hair, blue eyed, little boy working diligently by himself, as I advanced towards him, I noticed his simplistic drawing (see below).  As I approached, he looked up and in a sincere heart-felt tone he informed me that this was a picture of his friend persevering not only in math but in his everyday life. Pointing to the empty desk next to his, he whispered, “My friend has cancer. He is not in school because he just received a cancer treatment a few days ago.” His comments shook me to the very core. “Many of these Practices we do every day, not just in Mathematics!"

What do I need to know to solve?
This will be easy!

Kitty Rutherford serves as the North Carolina Elementary Mathematics Consultant for the Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh. She is an experienced leader, collaborator and licensed educator with a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education. She has received many honors such as the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching and the NCCTM Outstanding Elementary Mathematics Teacher. She is a member of the NCAEE Board and will be presenting two sessions at that Elementary School Conference. For more resources for implementing Common Core Standards, visit the Mathematics Wiki hosted by the NC DPI. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Bouncy Bands Help Students Stay on Task

 Guest blog post by Scott Ertl

As an elementary school counselor, I work with teachers and parents to help students most effectively learn, behave and cope with problems. There are many different products available to help students stay on task in school, from yoga balls to wiggle cushions. They are all helpful, but they are often expensive when trying to accommodate a whole class.

Bouncy Bands are a perfect DIY project that can cost under $20 for a class of 26 students. They are recycled bicycle inner tubes tied across the front legs of a student’s desk for them to rest and bounce their feet while they work. Bungee cords, rope, and garden hose can also be used. Initially, the inner tubes kept sliding down to the floor, so I added 9” pieces of PVC pipe to keep the Bouncy Band at the optimum height.

Even though much research shows the importance of kinesthetic learning and incorporating movement for students to better learn, most teachers after first grade continue to spend the overwhelming majority of time expecting students to stay in their seat throughout the day while learning. And since many students struggle to sit still for so long, they do not learn to their best ability. Instead, they rush through their work, give up, or make careless errors. I found that Bouncy Bands help many students when they have a way to release their extra energy when they work. Students with learning disabilities and/or hyperactivity need appropriate ways for them to release their anxiety and energy without overwhelming them, where they shut down or simply tune out. One student describes Bouncy Bands as a way for his feet to play while he works. Here are a few benefits I've found to using Bouncy Bands:
  • Students can stay on task longer.
  • Students can release their anxiety and extra energy.
  • The bands are quiet and don’t make any noise.
  • They recycle used bicycle inner tubes and last all year!

Classroom Management Ideas for Bouncy Bands
However, like most things, there can be problems using Bouncy Bands in class. The biggest complaint is, “It’s not fair that so-and-so gets a Bouncy Band. I want one.” Giving students a way to earn their own can be a great incentive. I had a classroom last year and I added Bouncy Bands to all of the desks. When teachers would bring their classes to my room for Guidance, I expected only 5 or 6 students to actively use the Bouncy Bands during my lessons. However, every single student would use their Bouncy Band at one point or another during the lesson. They quickly became the ultimate reward for students to earn at my school. By the end of the year, many students had earned their own Bouncy Bands for good behavior, completing their work, or achieving other goals.

Students in two different classes got in trouble using their Bouncy Bands as sling shots. It was interesting how the teachers decided to handle the situations. One teacher immediately removed the student’s Bouncy Band and he had silent lunch for the day. The other teacher decided to seize the moment to teach how it could be dangerous and the class even had fun taking turns measuring the different distances when launching paper balls versus tennis balls. (He was given a warning, but he didn’t lose his Bouncy Band.)

Tips for Making and Using Your Own Bouncy Bands:
  • Ask your local bike shop owner to donate their used bicycle inner tubes. Most I approached were extremely happy and willing to assist with this project. Most shop owners wished that they had Bouncy Bands when they were in school, since they struggled to sit still for such extended periods of time.
  • Students enjoy being able to customize the PVC pipes with markers, stickers, contact paper, colored tape and ribbon. They like personalizing their desk station without marking up the desk.
  • You can use regular scissors to cut the bicycle inner tubes; however, be sure to check for holes and use a 34-36” piece that is free of any holes, rips or tears. Also, be sure to cut off the nozzle.
  • Be cautious when cutting the inner tubes to make sure there isn’t any gooey substance inside the inner tube. Some cyclists inject a “fix-a-flat” substance when they are on the road to help them finish their trip and you don’t want to have to clean that from your carpet or clothes.
  • When getting the PVC pipe, first contact your local plumbing supply store to ask if they would be willing to donate four ten-foot long (1.5” diameter) pieces of PVC pipe. Each ten-foot piece can produce thirteen nine-inch pieces of PVC. Give the manager a written request on your school letterhead and they will likely oblige your request. You might decide to start by simply asking for 2 pieces of scrap pipe to see how your students respond to the Bouncy Bands before equipping your whole class. If you are unable to get your plumbing supply store to donate the pipes, it will only cost you about $20 for four pipes (26 sets) when you purchase the PVC pipe from your local Lowe’s or Home Depot. Perhaps your school PTA or parents would contribute towards making and/or collecting resources for this project.
Bouncy Bands are a great DIY project that can help students in your class stay on task and learn more effectively. They are an inexpensive way to help students get their wiggles out!

Scott Ertl is a school counselor at Ward Elementary School in Winston-Salem, NC. For more information, videos, and tips about making and using Bouncy Bands, feel free to visit his website, Scott will be presenting a session at the Elementary School Conference called "Fun Ways To Use Data To Help Students Track Their Progress With Specific Goals." 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Partnering with Parents

Guest blog post by Kelly Bergman

Research about the connection between parent involvement and student achievement is undeniable.  As I’ve been consulting in schools, I see a lack of parent involvement and it makes me wonder how we can do a better job of getting parents into our schools and classrooms.

My first thought is that we need to expand our definition of “parent involvement”.  There may have been a time when that meant volunteering in the classroom.  That may still work in some schools, but I’d like to think about “involvement” in three different ways: homework, parent education, and volunteering.


As a parent of upcoming third and fifth graders, I can tell you that I have a whole new perspective about homework.  As an educator, I was shocked in May when I was more excited about the end of the homework routine than my girls were.  It makes me think about parents who don’t have experience with certain math or reading strategies and it’s no wonder the homework isn’t getting done.  Sometimes the homework is so difficult for parents to understand that they cannot help their students get it done.  Here are a couple thoughts to ponder:

  • Think about your community and choose your battles carefully.  If you teach in a community where homework is not traditionally done, consider assigning a minimal amount of homework and make it something easy to accomplish.  This might be two or three simple math problems or studying a couple spelling words a night.  These tasks are easy for parents to understand and can be done in a very short period of time.
  • Make sure the homework truly is practice work.  Consider doing the first few problems or activities together in class in the hope that students will be able to do it independently at home.  We need to make sure that students understand the homework well enough to do it without parent support.

Family Activities

Here are a couple thoughts about activities that you might host for your families:

  • One of my favorite activities to do with parents was Family Math Night.  Once a month (scheduled at the beginning of the year) I held Family Math Night in my classroom.  This event was for my students and their parents and was really a lot of fun for all of us.  I used the book shown here which made it really simple.  I didn’t have to do a lot of searching for activities.  All of the activities in this book are high-interest, fun games for parents and students to do together.  While we were having fun playing games, we were also doing some parent education because I could model different questions and strategies that parents might use with their students at home.  In the section on volunteering, I’ve suggested a way for you to have these games made for you.
  • If math is not your favorite subject, consider hosting a Family Reading Night each month.  You might begin the evening with a read-aloud so you can model this for parents.  After that, you might let students and parents read together.  I think about the families who don’t have books at home and know that this would be at least one opportunity for families to enjoy this activity together.
  • As we all know, food makes everything better.  Consider providing a few snacks to help warm the environment.
  • One other fun element is to give away door prizes at these events.  The prizes could be as simple as one of the games you’ve had made for Family Math Night or books that you purchase with your book club points.  You might also ask your PTA and/or local businesses to donate door prizes.


What kinds of volunteer work can be done, regardless of a language barrier?  Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Practicing Math Facts – one teacher I know asks for volunteers each day during math to help students practice math facts.  She sets it up at the beginning of the year, trains parents the first time they come in, and then it flows very smoothly for the rest of the year.  Basically, parents go in , get the Volunteer Basket (with class list, timer, pencil, and flash cards), and then they call each student out for one minute to see how many facts they can get done.  She gives math facts quizzes each week so, once the students pass the addition quiz, she makes note on the recording sheet so the parent volunteer will help that student with subtraction.  Students love it and parents truly feel like it’s a good use of their time.  There is no language barrier with math facts.
  • Preparing Materials – teachers need many materials and games prepared and we don’t need to spend our time doing it.  Whether parents come in or can make materials at home, regardless of their native language, we can have them make games for us.  I can make one example of the game, gather the materials, and the parent can copy what has been done.  Parents love to help prepare tools for the classroom.
  • Are you still searching for a great way to schedule parent volunteers?  One teacher I knew did her scheduling by having you sign up on the calendar outside of her room.  This wasn’t very convenient, especially if a parent had a last minute opening and could drop in to volunteer.  Instead, consider using an online tool like  This fabulous, free tool is easy to use, allows parents to check the volunteer schedule any time, and even sends them a reminder.  Making it easy to sign up and sending a reminder will increase the number of volunteers you have in your classroom.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get each one of your classroom parents involved in one way or another?  I challenge you to set this as a goal for yourself for the upcoming school year.  Your students will certainly reap the benefits!

Kelly Bergman is a master of classroom management.  In her 22 years as an educator, she has become known as a person who can help educators simplify the teaching process in order to meet high accountability standards and still enjoy this incredible profession.  Kelly is also the author of professional resources for educators including Quick Tips: Making the First Six Weeks a Success and a video and guide on 4 Keys to Successful Classroom Management. She will be presenting the keynote address entitled “Joyful Teaching Through Changes and Challenges” at this year's annual NCAEE conference in October.  Kelly is being sponsored by Scholastic.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Motivate Students with Real World Learning

Guest blog post by Susan Nunamaker, Ed.S.

I sat down with Lisa one day and asked her,“What is something you are really good at doing?”  It took this struggling third grade student a long time to think of any talent.  Lisa had earned so many failing grades on reading and math assessments over her years in school that she had come to terms with the idea that she was not good at anything.

Lisa finally came back to me with an answer.  “Well, I’m really good at braiding hair.”  So I told her to try it on my hair.  She braided a strand of my hair in less than a minute.  The braid stayed in my hair the rest of the day, and I woke up the next morning with the braid perfectly intact!  There was no rubber band holding it in, only Lisa’s tight braiding skills. She had discovered her gift.

Lisa saved up classroom money for a class business license and proudly opened “Lisa’s Salon.”  She was in such demand a waiting list hung from her desk.  She quickly realized that she needed to improve her math skills to collect payment, make change, and pay her business taxes.  She also needed reading and writing skills to create a business plan and marketing materials.  Once Lisa made the realization for herself that she needed to improve her reading and math abilities, her classroom performance increased.  Lisa found motivation to take responsibility for her own learning and was determined to better herself for the sake of her own future.

When I was in college learning to become a teacher, I pictured myself walking into a classroom full of kids who couldn’t wait to learn and wanted to please me at all times.  You can imagine the shock when I entered my first classroom and realized that kids are, well, kids.  They come into our schools with lives of their own that definitely have an effect on their performance while they are with us.  Realizing that not all students are as motivated as the kids we see in training videos and textbooks, it was now up to me to figure out how to create a successful learning environment for everyone.  So I asked myself, “How can I motivate my students to do their best while they are with me?”

The answer was simple. Professionalism encourages both children and adults to work harder. And daily classroom routines can easily be transformed into real world, professional classroom activities without adding an extra workload for teachers who already lack the time needed to truly reach their students. These strategies are simply a change in the way we do things, not extras requiring more time. One powerful strategy is adding entrepreneurship opportunities within daily classroom activities.

Student Entrepreneurship

Student-run small businesses are an excellent way to practice and enhance social skills, in addition to applying math, language arts, social studies, and financial literacy skills, with the money that they have earned in your classroom. Students will write business plans, make change, calculate sales tax, graph profit margins, create commercials, hire and manage employees, and use their own talents to sell goods and services to their peers. The most amazing effect is the confidence that students build in themselves as they seek out and discover their own personal talents.

You might be asking how this can be used to teach core academic standards.  Here is a link to watch a video containing just one of the many examples from my classroom: This video shows the end of a graphing lesson in my third grade classroom.  Students are utilizing graphs that they created after collecting data on inventory sold in their stores. Students are utilizing the data in graph formation to analyze sales and determine future action based on sales data, just as corporations utilize graphs in the real world. You will hear my third grade students discussing inventory that they plan on increasing and products or services that they plan to discontinue based on the graphs. This is real world teaching and learning!

(Mathematical Practices: Number & Operations, Data Analysis, Fractions & Decimals, Money, Algebraic Thinking, Counting & Cardinality English/Language Arts: Reading, Writing, Language, Speaking & Listening, Technology Social Studies: Economics, Social Skills, Decision-Making Skills, Financial Literacy)

Susan Nunamaker is a National Board Certified Teacher with a passion to help students discover their talents and a love for learning. She will be presenting a session on real-world learning at the Elementary School Conference in October and is being sponsored by Kaplan Elementary. Susan currently teaches 3rd grade at Clemson Elementary School and is a 2012 finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Learn more real world classroom ideas in Susan’s latest book entitled Backpacks to Briefcases. You are also invited to read fun, oftentimes hilarious, daily stories from her classroom at or visit Susan’s Pinterest Board for classroom ideas! 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Fostering Inquiry with Science Notebooks
by Carol Wooten

A buzz of excitement fills the classroom as students prepare to work on their preferred content area.  Students eagerly take out their notebooks to show they are ready for the lesson. One student excitedly flips through the pages of her notebook locating her last investigation observation, a labeled illustration of her team’s model ecosystem.  Another student shuffles through his book bag to locate a clear plastic bag; he opens the bag, removes his green neon safety goggles, and grins. We are ready to investigate. This scenario may seem like one from a 30-minute sitcom; however, with science and the implementation of science notebooks, this situation can occur daily in classrooms.

From this scenario, we see that the days of a solitary instructor lecturing to numerous students from a textbook are long past.  Instead, the students are now the scientists conducting the investigations that set the stage for an array of content exploration.  From model cars for investigating basic physics concepts to soda bottle ecosystems, the implementation of inquiry science instruction with the integration of science notebooks has transformed classrooms into a laboratory of rich learning.  As teachers are required to do more with less, we are working with integration of the subject areas.  For example, writing is integrated throughout the entire science notebook and math is encompassed in the notebook with graphing, computations, and measurements. What easier and more effective way to integrate than with the thrilling hands-on, minds-on content area of science?

Inquiry Science Basics
With inquiry, students take on the role of scientists whereas the teacher becomes more of the facilitator and guide. Students pose inquiry questions, which are often guided by the teacher, and use hands-on materials to further explore this question. These investigations, which directly relate to the inquiry question, provide data and observations that students analyze to build a firm conceptual understanding. Therefore, inquiry is vital because it allows students to gain knowledge about content through manipulation of objects and illustration of real world connections. Through these investigations, students are able to articulate and support their findings with precise evidence from the data and observations. Also, the utilization of meaningful class discussions allows students to share ideas to further convey the content and enhance their knowledge base. According to the National Research Council, the implementation of an inquiry approach enables students to “develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world” (NRC, 2000, p. 1).

Science Notebooks Overview
As student scientists are diligently working to pose inquiry questions, develop predictions, collect data, and synthesize these results, they are also recording this information in their science notebook. The science notebook can take on several forms—it can be a spiral notebook, papers in a binder, or a marble composition book. No matter the type of format selected, the crucial element is that students are writing and working to improve their scientific reasoning skills. These notebooks, which can be implemented as early as kindergarten, provide students with a strong foundation of explanation and synthesis of information gained from each investigation.

Kindergarten notebooks could be a class notebook where students glue in their individual illustrations and write about their observations together. As students progress through elementary school, they are able to develop their own notebook. For instance, in first grade, students may use stickers for “Focus Question,” Prediction,” and so forth. Many teachers also use Realia walls where they post a photo or illustration with the vocabulary word listed below this picture. Modeling each of the components listed below is key to promoting a high quality science notebook.

Lesson Investigation Using Science Notebooks

Journeying into a classroom that implements inquiry-based instruction provides an opportunity to observe young scientists in action. The following description encapsulates an entire lesson; however, dependent upon the investigation, a lesson may sometimes include just one or a few of these components.

Keep in mind that science notebooks can be used in kindergarten. The lesson investigation outline below illustrates a third through fifth grade lesson entry. Students record these lesson components in their science notebook.

  • Focus Question
    Before students begin the investigation, they develop a focus question that directly relates to the investigation.  In many instances, this focus question is based on a fictional scenario that enables students to connect science to real world concepts. For example, an investigation on pollution incorporates a scenario concerning various materials deposited into local water systems.  After reading and analyzing the scenario, students work in cooperative teams to develop an inquiry question such as “How does pollution affect an ecosystem?”
  • Prediction
    Following the development of an inquiry focus question, students devise an educated guess about the outcome of the investigation.  This prediction also enlightens the teacher on the students’ thought processes and reasoning.  Students often connect their prediction to real life situations.  For example, when adding an abundance of fertilizer to the model ecosystem, one student formulated the following prediction: “I think that all of the plants will grow very tall because fertilizer helps plants grow.  When my parents use fertilizer, it helps the plants grow taller and healthier.”  Even though the prediction is inaccurate, it illustrates how the student associates the use of fertilizer and provides an excellent pre-assessment of scientific thought.  By conducting observations over a period of time, the student later learned about the harmful nature of an overabundance of fertilizer in an ecosystem.  Reassuring students that the prediction is an educated guess about the investigation outcome helps to alleviate their concern over developing an exact prediction.  
  • Data and Observations
    Additionally, students plan the data collection method in preparation for completing the investigation.  Then, students conduct the hands-on component of the inquiry investigation.  These hands-on investigations are not a one-time event—they are the core of each lesson and result in students becoming energized about science and interested in the content.   In the ecosystems unit, cooperative student groups used clear two-liter soda bottles to create model ecosystems.  The first set of ecosystems included both plants and animals; however, the second set, which was created for the pollution investigation, included only plants. The four models utilized for the pollution investigation were labeled as follows: control (no pollutant added), vinegar, salt, and fertilizer.  During each investigation, the teacher walks around the classroom carefully observing the students working and posing questions to each group.  The teacher does not provide the students with solutions; rather, he/she asks probing questions to expand the students’ scientific reasoning.  
  • Making Meaning Conference
    Cooperative science groups share the results of the investigation during a class discussion known as the Making Meaning Conference. During this conference, the teacher is able to effectively determine each student’s level of discernment about science concepts. Class discussion is essential to ensure that all students make meaning of the data and grasp the concepts from the lesson. During the discussion, students cite specific data from their data collection tool to clarify their findings, The teacher is also able to identify areas of misconception and provide clarification though questioning and content knowledge. For example, one cooperative team believed that the terrarium and aquarium portions of the unpolluted control ecosystem were two unrelated entities. Students accurately observed that roots from the terrarium were growing into the aquarium. The students overlooked the idea that the roots now have a direct water source; therefore, the plants in the terrarium were thriving. Through the Making Meaning Conference, the students discussed their findings and ultimately derived the correct result about the benefits of the roots extending into the aquarium. In the end, the class precisely determined the science concepts in the investigation: salt represented salt added to icy roads, vinegar symbolized acid rain, and fertilizer denoted over-fertilization. 
  • Claims and Evidence
    Another important component of inquiry is the dissemination and written communication of the collected data. This analysis is manifested in the claims and evidence section of the science notebook. Students develop explanations, which are referred to as claims, and then refer back to their data collection tool as evidence.  The following sample shows a student’s claim based on the aforementioned ecosystems investigation: “I claim that we added too much fertilizer because fertilizer is supposed to help plants, but if you add too much, the plants just die.” The student then justifies this claim with data-based evidence from her table. She begins her sentence with “My evidence is…” and uses specific results from her data table.  By citing evidence, science ideas are ingrained into the students’ conceptual understanding.
  • Conclusion
    Synthesizing the investigation into a few sentences allows students to summarize what they learned from the investigation.  Students may also refer back to their prediction statement and discuss whether the data collected supports the prediction.  Based on the ecosystems inquiry investigation, a student writes, “I learned that pollutants can destroy an ecosystem because the pollutant is put in the terrarium and the aquarium plants die too. I know this because I compared my data charts from before the pollutants and after the pollutants.  All of the plants were alive before the added the pollutants but were brown and withered after. ” Another student explains, “My prediction was almost correct.  I thought that the vinegar and salt would make the plants turn brown.  But I did not know that the vinegar would make the plants turn white and the fertilizer would not help the plants grow.”
  • Reflection 
    In the reflection, students can document new questions that are related to the investigation or next steps they would like to take in the investigation.  For instance, students wondered “What would happen if we used less fertilizer?”or “What would happen if we put more water in the solutions?”  If time allows, students can further explore these next steps and new questions in supplementary investigations.

With inquiry science, it is all about seeing, doing, and experimenting.  Science is going beyond the two-dimensional pages of a text—science is active learning. Inquiry science with the use of notebooking provides an area where all students can be successful.

Carol Wooten is a fifth grade math and science teacher at Hunter GT Magnet Elementary in Raleigh, NC. She is a Nationally Board certified teacher who earned her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Development and Supervision from NCSU. Wooten is a former Kenan Fellow whose project was entitled “Science Inquiry and Assessment.”  She is a past recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching.  In 2013, she was named a top ten national semi-finalist for the K-12 Shell Science Teaching Award. Wooten serves on the NCAEE board as the Teacher Director at Large. Carol is also a member of the NC Association of Elementary Educators Board of Directors.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to Find and Follow Terrific Teacher Blogs

One way that NCAEE carries out its mission is to help elementary educators find great resources on the web. Over the last year, the number of teacher blogs has exploded! Do you know how to find great blogs and follow them?

Google Reader was an old favorite for organizing and reading blogs, but Google Reader is no more. However, there are many other blog feed readers that make it easy to follow and organize your favorite blogs. One that I recently discovered and really enjoy is BlogLovin. To follow NCAEE - It's Elementary on BlogLovin, just click the link below. You'll have to set up a free account, but that's easy to do.

Follow on Bloglovin

The next step is finding great teacher blogs to follow. I can help with that one! I've discovered dozens of fabulous teacher blogs over the last few years, so I decided to host a Blog Hunt link up on my Corkboard Connections blog. I invited the bloggers I know to link up their blogs so that others can find them easily. Just click on the Blog Hunt icon and you'll hop right to that blog post where you can hunt for great blogs to your heart's content! Just a word of warning ... be sure you have several hours to tackle this project because you are bound to get lost in these terrific teacher blogs!

By the way, if you're interested in learning how to create your own teacher blog, be sure to attend the 10th Annual Elementary School Conference in Greensboro on October 20th - 22nd. Several bloggers will be joining me on Sunday afternoon to present a session called Teacher Blog Boot Camp. You'll learn everything you need to know to get started, and if you bring a laptop to the session, you might get your own blog started before you leave! Register for the conference now to take advantage of the early registration discount. Hope to see you there!

Laura Candler is the current President of the NC Association of Elementary Educators. She's retired from the classroom where she taught grades 4 and 5 for 30 years, but she's still active in education. Laura is the creator of the Teaching Resources website, and she is the author of numerous books and ebooks for teachers.