Saturday, February 12, 2022

Talking to students about masks

 This week our Governor and Commissioner of Education had a press conference about ending the mask mandate in schools. It was all anyone could talk about. However, what was not being discussed was how educators would talk to their students about what happens IF schools have the option for mask wearing. How will we approach the idea that some people will be wearing masks for various reasons and others will not be wearing a mask?

The conference was scheduled for 10:30 AM, and I decided to watch it with my 5th grade students. Before the conference began, we had a class conversation around masks. I explained masks were the new accessory that became a big trend in 2020! Some people started making them. Others made sure they had ones that matched outfits, while some wore medical masks. We all had them and wore them regardless of our personal feelings about them. We talked about the pandemic becoming an endemic, which were two big concepts for these 5th graders! They recognized we will need to learn to live with Covid in our new normal, which was later confirmed by the Governor during the press conference. 

I led an open discussion about how people can sometimes get made fun of for the clothes they wear, the earrings or shoes they have on, or their hair style. When asked if anyone had been made fun of for these things every hand went up. This was a natural opening to talking about mask wearing and normalizing it. Wearing a mask is going to be part of someone’s identity moving forward, should they choose to do so. It is a human choice and should be valued. Just the same as the person who chooses not to wear a mask. There are also people who have to wear the mask because they are immunocompromised or cannot get vaccinated, so this is something else they need to be aware of. 

In the spirit of Kindness Week, students talked about being nice and having empathy towards everyone regardless of their individual choice. Students also mentioned how they are young, and it might be their parent’s prerogative for them to wear a mask or not. Having an open dialogue with students where we normalize mask wearing before a decision is even made helped students see the bigger picture of how we are transitioning into an endemic. 

As we watched the press conference, students learned there are decisions about mask wearing made at the federal level. The decision to wear a mask on a bus is decided by the federal government, and students heard they will still have to wear one on a bus. Then they listened to  state government officials discuss how they are lifting the mask mandate in schools on February 28th. This was followed by an announcement that it was now up to the local government to decide if they would lift the mandate. Our class talked about the different levels of government and decision making. We then dove into a talk about policy. A child curiously asked if our school committee would decide to keep the mask policy even though the state said the mandate would not be in effect at the end of the month. I told him we would have to wait and see what happens. 

I gave the students a few days to reflect on our discussion and press conference. Then I revisited the conversation, reminding them about everyone’s personal choice to wear a mask or to not wear a mask. We talked about ways to approach our classmates. One student said, “It does not matter whether someone is wearing a mask or not. It is their decision and their choice.” Another child said, “Do not treat someone differently because they are wearing a mask.” A student said, “It is their decision to wear a mask just like it is your decision to get your ears pierced or wear something.” A student mentioned, “They might feel safer with a mask. It is their decision. Some parents might want their child to still wear a mask.” “Just because someone does something different than you, they should still be treated with respect,” said another child. “People will have different beliefs, but you have to respect their opinion,” was something shared by a student. “A mask is just an accessory,” said someone else. A student ended the conversation with a person has “their reasons to wear a mask.” 

Students then had an opportunity to email our school committee should they choose to and share either what they learned, what they wanted to see change, or their concerns about what could change. Empowering students to share their voices with local elected officials is a dynamic learning experience that promotes student agency. 

So as everyone begins to make decisions that impact our children, make sure conversations are happening about how to talk to children about these changes. 

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Bringing #authors into your classroom

Today we celebrated World Read Aloud Day! Litworld started this tradition thirteen years ago to celebrate a day of reading in our learning communities. Thanks to author Kate Messner, I had the opportunity to bring in some guests to read to us today! Our class is very fortunate to have so many opportunities that connect our secret agents to authors. 

This morning's celebration kicked off with the amazing Elly Swartz. Elly’s realistic fiction books find their way into the hearts of middle grade readers. Her characters often struggle with things many of our students struggle with such as anxiety or OCD, and readers go along a journey with them. I have been working with Elly on teacher curriculum guides for her novels, so it was fun to have her read her newest book to the secret agents. I am hoping to read Dear Student as our next read aloud. It is her best work yet! If you would like a copy Elly sent us this information:

Special signed copies!  

If you pre-order DEAR STUDENT (published February 15, 2022) from Eight CousinsWellesley Books, or The Brain Lair, your book will be signed to the reader of your choosing and you'll receive a limited-edition bookmark.    


Other prizes!  

If you pre-order from Eight Cousins, Wellesley Books, The Brain Lair, or anywhere books are sold, and send proof of purchase to, you'll be entered to win one of the three prizes below. Winners randomly chosen on 2/15/22. Good luck!  


**        Happy Prize. A signed Brave Like Me poster    

**        Dear Prize. Handwritten letters to you, your bookclub, your group of friends (up to 20), or your class from me in the style of Dear Student.    

                        **        Virtual Prize. A free 30 minute virtual Q & A with me    

After Elly’s reading Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo came to visit us! She has written poignant stories that open the minds of middle grade readers. I met Jeanne a few years back when she came to the Unlikely Story. Her realistic fiction books are ones readers drive right into! Jeanne does a tremendous amount of research for her books, which is something I am trying to teach the agents about now!

Our final virtual visitor was none other than Christyne Morrell. As you might know, Christyne is our class resident author. She has been teaching the students how to write historical nonfiction. It was so fun to have the agents discuss books and being an author with her! 

We have another author coming to visit us virtually in March. Erin Soderberg Downing will be joining us to talk about her latest book coming out in April! We scored an invite to celebrate her new book with her! Here she is reading her first chapter of her book! If anyone is interested in purchasing her books she has offered her local bookstore as an option with a discount. The Red Balloon - has set up a special page for The Peach Pack with a special code (PEACHES) that is good for 20% off. All books ordered through this site will be personalized and/or signed by her:

Victoria Coe will also be visiting us as part of her 5 part webinar series agents are engaged in. They are learning how to write a narrative with Victoria's guidance and my help. Students have learned a lot about writing with detail. They are in the process of writing a first draft, and then we will continue with the webinars where students learn about revision and editing strategies. Victoria will join us to celebrate our young authors later in the year. 

We will also be visited by Jo Hackl, author of our book club book, as a culminating activity to our book study. I cannot thank these authors enough for their generosity to our secret agents. I love being able to celebrate books and reading with students and thrilled we can have visits from so many talented authors!  

Students lined up to ask questions from our experts every time they visited us. Providing students doors to the world opens their minds!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

How Do We Keep Up With It All?

 Today’s world of teaching and parenting has drastically changed with the technological revolution that is shifting daily. To be the best educator of our children also means keeping up with current trends our students are exposed to whether it be the recent Tik Tok Challenges that have burst onto the news scene or memes students find hilarious (which may not be to someone else). Innocent games like tag or infection on the playground have been replaced with another innocent game that is not so innocent when you read into it. 

The circle game is one I have seen students playing the past two years. Imagine the typical “OK” symbol with your hands. Students make this symbol and try to get other students to look at it. If a student gets caught looking then they get a punch in the arm by the student making the symbol. Getting a punch in the arm is not something all students want to receive nor is it an expected school behavior. What students are not aware of is the “OK” symbol’s meaning in different cultures. 

In 2017 the symbol acquired a new meaning much more powerful towards the intended target. There was a hoax that year by members of the website 4chan to falsely promote the symbol to represent white power. According to the Anti Defamation League, “the hoaxers hoped that the media and liberals would overreact by condemning a common image as white supremacist.” Unfortunately this is exactly what happened and the symbol was ruled to be racist. We cannot assume every person who does this symbol has mal intent. But someone on the receiving end of the symbol might feel otherwise. Therefore students need to be made aware of the different meanings of things to be more informed decision makers about the choices they make and when and where they make those choices. Having conversations with students about the different meanings of symbols to others can have a profound impact on us all. 

This is how we try to keep up with the kids. We listen. We watch. We Google what it is they are doing to learn more. And we have the hard conversations with them, building trust between the child and the adult. 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Who is the SUS? An #AmongUs gamified Classroom Experience

Who is the SUS? Provide evidence! Did you get your tasks done collaboratively? Are you sure you followed directions? These are questions students are being asked as we have started playing our class Among Us game! When I created the game I had no idea if it would work! The lesson was designed to include several standards in a gamified experience!
Students were put into groups, and assigned a color and the role of either imposter or crewmate. I had created game cards and emailed them to individual students. SHHHHHH! Students had to keep their role a secret but announced their color in the chat once they were put in breakout rooms.
Students were assigned 6 tasks that asked them to create a product using a Google tool. Six tools are being used in their tasks, including Forms, Sites, and Slides. Working collaboratively students have to follow a set of directions. The imposter’s job is to not only hide among the crewmate and work on the tasks but also slightly change something. The imposter cannot delete something. Maybe a color of font is altered or an image added. When someone notices a change he/she/they can call an emergency meeting. This is when I can enter and lead a discussion alongside the person who called the meeting in the chat.
Not only are students learning skills in the content area, but they are also discovering digital literacy skills. Life lessons and the importance of reading and following directions are two unexpected benefits that have some out of playing the Among Us style game created for students.
When students call an emergency meeting they are to ask me to join their group. When I enter the room should be silent, and we use the chat to communicate. I have entered rooms full of boisterous students during an emergency meeting, so I have said to the students that this cannot be for an emergency meeting since there is so much noise. Then I quickly leave and head to another group. When I return to the group who called the emergency meeting it is silent. You could hear a pin drop! We use the chat to communicate, and students are learning to be clear and kind in their word choice when determining who the SUS is.
If the group guesses correctly a new imposter is assigned and the game continues. We have been learning a lot during our game play! One group figured out they could use the hand raise feature to vote. Another student shared he had an A-Ha moment that his group needed to be more cooperative. Gamifying our classroom on Wednesdays has given us all something to look forward to!



Wednesday, January 27, 2021

The Power of Video for Fluency Practice!


Trying to work with students 6 feet apart on fluency skills while in mask is a challenge. I have been modeling fluency skills but was trying to wrap my head around how to best support students with their growth in oral reading. I had an idea and decided to test it out on a Wednesday since the entire class is remote.

There is a lot of power in video as a tool, so I decided to see if I could create a learning experience for students to build their fluency skills. I created an assignment in Google Classroom using Flipgrid for those students with parent permission and Screencastify Submit for those students who did not have permission to use Flipgrid. This was a great way to push the assignment out, as every child had the same assignment even if the tool was different.


I spent some time watching the first two minutes of each video. Laughter escaped my lips as students greeted me and shared which book they were reading. Some students found picture books and made time to share the pictures and others did the same with graphic novels. I was not expecting any of that, so it warmed my teacher heart that students felt the video was an extension of a conversation between us. Using Flipgrid I was able to give students direct feedback in the app. This is a great feature of Flipgrid! Students who used Screencastify Submit I was able to email directly.

I commented on student successes and then gave some constructive feedback about what to work on for the next time. Students read in longer phrases but needed to pause at punctuation. Others read with intonation while some read at the same speed and voice. This was an opportunity to discuss voice when we read aloud! I modeled different ways to read out loud. The first time I read I was told I sounded like a boring robot. The second time students identified how I changed my voice and how engaging I was as a reader.

Tomorrow students are tasked with responding to my feedback. I have asked them to share a goal they have to improve their fluency. Discussions with students can happen over video and email. After all, it is about building relationships with our students!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Bernie, his mittens, and some memes: Making learning relevant

Bernie Sanders and his mittens have taken over our live feeds on various social media platforms, and the global audience following this meme movement is left wondering where he will turn up next. I posed this question to students, and I immediately had a class full of engaged learners ready to tackle this challenge. After a quick Google search we had a variety of Bernie memes to discuss, thinking of design choices made by the creators.

I shared a picture of Bernie Sanders, sitting in the chair and wearing his mittens made by a fellow educator, sorority sister, and UVM classmate of mine. Students were also given a Google Drawing canvas to work on. They were tasked with creating their own Bernie Sanders meme to share with the class. The students were going to share stories of Bernie Sanders with each other, based on the image they created. Their classmates could ask questions about their stories too!

Students then set to work. Soon questions began popping up. They wanted to know how to remove Bernie’s background in the image I had shared and how to reorder images in a Google Drawing. Their inquiries drove the digital skills being taught. Students were introduced to and ordering images. I heard laughter as students cleverly chose backgrounds. We spent some time as a class sharing our image creations, asking questions, and growing as community of learners. Each student wanted to share his/her/their meme with a global audience and be part of this Bernie Sanders movement.

Engaging students in storytelling and listening to their ideas reminded me we need to be designing lessons that are relevant to students. Some of the best teaching can happen in the moment! We also need to allow our students’ questions to drive the learning. Designing learning experiences that students will remember for a lifetime should be our end goal. My students might never remember the arduous hours we have put in to learn how divide, but I am sure they will remember creating these memes and the stories behind some of them.

 Bernie came to visit us in our class Google Meet. This meme created also showed student's understanding of data privacy as we blocked out the Meet code, link, and names. 

Bernie in some NFL trouble. 

Bernie attended a birthday party! 
Bernie was a tourist at the Great Wall of China! 

Bernie is the new basketball! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Among Us is Coming to our 5th Grade Class!

 Among Us has stormed through our students’ lives, and it seems to be all the rage! When designing lessons it is important to try to connect and engage students with content, providing learning experiences they will remember. So what better way to do this than to design an Among Us themed unit?

Inspired by Carrie Baughcum and Adam Bold, over break I created an Among Us activity for students that covers various Massachusetts learning standards. It can be adapted for other standards of teaching and learning. However I focused not only on content but also on speaking and listening and digital skills. 

I dropped hints to students that Among Us would be coming soon. I got the slow clap like an 1980s movie from several students.

Over the course of two weeks I randomly commented that Among Us was coming to our class. Students had lots of questions, but I chose to let them talk and try to figure out what I could mean. Several students said right away they would not be using the app on a device due to data privacy issues and age restrictions. They were correct in their thinking. 

This morning I unveiled the first slide, so students would know I was serious that I created an activity for them that will take place on Wednesday mornings! I showed them the title slide, and I asked them to think about what I could have made. Here is what students thought: 

  • Whoever has most imposters wins

  • Someone is going to put a clue out every week and we need to figure out who imposter is

  • When we do the activity you will give us a card and it will give us who we are and we have to try to vote who the imposter is

  • During the lessons we do on Wednesdays you will fit a clue in one of them and we have to figure out what it is and who did it

  • I do not think it will be with the real game and we are not allowed to play it because we are not of age

  • Trivia/treasure hunt and crewmates trying to figure it out and imposter slowing them down

  • Trivia of different maps of what imposter is and what crewmates can and cannot do

  • Have to make something and it involves Among Us and whoever makes the best one wins

  • It will be like the mafia game where you have to sit and close your eyes and we will have to vote someone out 

One student guessed closely to what we will be doing, but I would not tell them who. I left them wondering what we would be doing, until next week when I share more about our plans to play Among Us as a fifth grade class. Leaving them in suspense only caused them to want to know more!