Sunday, January 22, 2017

Make it Memorable

The field of education is slowly becoming mechanical.  Teachers are expected to complete more paperwork and prove that their students understand the concept using a variety of data points.  School days are micromanaged to the minute of what students are expected to be doing, where they go, and how they complete certain activities.  With our endless checklists and constant hustle to get from one activity to the next, we often forget to engage students to the point where we make learning memorable.

What are your students going to remember about your class next year? What will they remember when they their 30s?  Our students deserve to have fond memories of their elementary years. It is our duty to create safe places for our students to learn in a more memorable way.  Open your mind and think outside of the box.  What Problem Based Learning (PBL) ideas can you use?  Can you base your entire unit around one concept or idea?

This year in my third grade class we based our entire Forces and Motion, Heat Transfer, and Matter units on real-life events.  Through teaching in this manner I noticed that my students more engaged than with our normal science experiments and PBLs.

During these units we used the World Series to study forces at work in baseball.  We connected with what students were learning about in reading by experimenting with the Titanic.  We then completed a school-wide PBL on the Miracle on the Hudson, with each grade level connecting this event to their standards.  Every grade level visited Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte to view the actual Miracle on the Hudson airplane. The museum staff adapted their centers to tie into each grade level’s PBL.

We brought in a passenger from the Miracle on the Hudson to speak to the students about her experience on this flight.  The next day students arrived to see our classroom transformed into an airplane.  I portrayed a flight attendant, checking tickets for every student that boarded Flight 1549.  The tickets were created with real passenger names and seats.  We watched the safety video, then followed the audio from the cockpit as the plane descended into the Hudson River.  Students had to brace for impact and escape once the plane crash landed.

We had a discussion about the science behind the crash, then wrote stories from the point of view of the passengers on board.  We designed and weighed down paper airplanes with paperclips, then performed water landings using these airplanes.

We then paired with fifth grade and researched aviation throughout history.  Each class built a large model airplane of their assigned era.  Classes were split into six groups.  Five of these groups built one part of the airplane.  Group six was responsible for identifying problems during the building process and for putting the entire plane together.  Each group had to perfect their communication skills to make sure their airplane was symmetrical, that the sections fit together and that each piece was proportional.

As a culminating activity, our school partnered with Carolinas Aviation Museum for a Night at the Museum with stations set up for each grade level to showcase their products.  All of our families were able to attend for free.

The whole school PBL idea involved all of our students and made learning the curriculum memorable. These types of lessons and events are what make school more engaging and unforgettable.  I want to challenge you to make your teaching memorable.  Find more ways to bring excitement into your day.

About the Author:
Megan Charlton is a third grade STEM Teacher at Patriots STEM Elementary School in Concord, NC.  She has taught Kindergarten, Fifth Grade and Third Grade.  She is in her 12th year of teaching, all of which have been in North Carolina.  She graduated from Kentucky Christian University with a B.S. In Elementary Education and Bible.  Mrs. Charlton serves on the NCAEE Board as Teacher At Large.  She blogs at

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Who Are Your Students Writing For?

Have you ever stopped to think who your students are writing for?  If no one comes to mind then it is probably you!  Should students write for teachers?  Of course!  We are there to offer guidance and support but we want our students to become independent of us.  We want them to become authors, writing for a wider audience.

Students need to know why they are writing and who they are writing for. Authors write to share their ideas and creativity to the world and young writers need the same motivation. How many times during a day do you hear your name called and students say “look at this?” Students love sharing their work with teachers, parents and their peers. Even better young writers love sharing their pieces with anyone. 
How do you get your students to feel like authors? First they need to discuss their writing with their peers. Practice having students work in partners. Model how to ask questions about their pieces. Students gain more ideas about their writing when a partner asks questions about their pieces. Feedback drives students to write more adding details that answer their audience’s questions.

Digital publishing is another way for students to share their writing with a bigger stage. Digital publishing puts emphasis on a completed piece of writing and a quality piece of work. Digital writing is almost always meant for an audience. When students know they are writing for someone else besides the teachers it motivates them to do their best. 

Having students write in  Google Docs is an easy way to publish and share a digital piece. It is accessible from anywhere and is easily shared through a google account or shareable link. What is also great about using google documents is that teachers, parents and peers can give feedback right onto the document itself.
Chatterpix is another great way for young writers to publish their pieces. This free app allows students to record and animate their writing, which allows students practice reading their pieces for fluency. To use Chatterpix, students snap a picture of their writing and save it to the camera roll. Next, they open the Chatterpix app and upload picture. They then swipe across the picture to animate it. Lastly, they hit the record button and read their writing.

 Students can also add an illustration that goes with their writing and read as the picture talks.
After reading Spookley the Square Pumpkin, my students wrote about how to be a nice friend. Then they drew a picture to upload to Chatterpix and recorded themselves reading their piece. To publish their pieces, I made QR codes and placed the pumpkins in the hallway for everyone to scan. Sticky notes were placed beside each picture so anyone that listened could leave a comment. This is a simple way to publish to a wider audience. Students get really excited when they see that someone listened to their writing and left a comment. Follow the link below and see our adorable Spookleys.

Once young writers have the experience of talking about their writing, receiving feedback from their audience and having a platform to publish they will not only begin to see themselves as authors, they will become authors.

About the Author 

Lisa Fain is a NBCT who has been teaching for 23 years. She is a First Grade teacher who enjoys integrating technology into her classroom. She blogs at The Primary Sisters with her sister who also teachers First Grade with her at the same school.