Less is More #IMMOOC3

I am reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  In the book,  he talks about being intentional in our planning, and working toward achieving a common goal. One thing he said that resonated with me is Less is more

There is so much available to teachers today – resources,  apps, websites – a lot of information about making learning easier.  It when you start with just one thing, #onesmallthing, and go deep, that you make the greatest impact. 

In first grade, we have a lot of brand new learning. This is the year we see a lot of growth  in our learners. They learn how to become  better readers, writers, and mathematicians. They learn to get along with others. They learn how to make mistakes and try again.  They learn about first attempts, and second attempts, improving their learning each time.  We started to work with a new app each week, spending time on just one- exploring the app testing it out, using it for learning, working with others , and finding out what it can do.  One of the first websites or apps I share is Seesaw. It’s a digital portfolio used to share the learning. My students can upload their literacy activities so I have evidence of what they accomplish each day. I love it because it allows me to take the time to see what they are practicing while I am working with guided groups.  We are still learning to do new things on Seesaw. 

Using that less is more  mindset, I cut back on the number of apps we use, causing us to  become more intentional with the apps we are using.  It is important to give them time to become experts with a tool, so that they can teach it to others .  First we are learners, then we become teachers. 



Why is Innovation in Education so Important today? #IMMOOC


“Innovation is the process by which we change the world. Its about making things better in new and meaningful ways. It’s the practical application of ideas and technologies to make new and better things,” Carl Bass, CEO of Autodesk, from The New rules of education TEdTalk

I recently joined the IMMOOC – a massive online community of learners, innovators, and creators who want to make changes in their world. We were challenged to blog about why innovation is so crucial in todays’ classrooms. Through their thoughts and ideas, I am growing as an educator, and feeling empowered to try new ideas in my classroom.

Working with first graders, I often struggle with laying the groundwork versus trying something new.  I know that my kids need to learn how to read – but more importantly, how to find the information they need for the task at hand, and understand it. My students need to know how to write – but more specifically, how to communicate their ideas with others. My students need to know basic math facts and concepts, by more importantly, they need to know how they relate to their world. I need to provide that instruction through differentiated instruction, conferencing with students and giving feedback, and providing them with a safe-to -explore learning environment to show their learning. I need to teach these children that are growing up in the 21st century, in our changing world, so that they will be empowered to follow their passions.


After spending time listening to Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk on Starting with your Why? I have discovered that I want to provide a learning environment that is best for kids today. I want my students to have the best opportunities to follow their passions and dreams.

All kids walk into school curious and creative. We need to weave a path to accentuate the creativity in our kids.  George Couros

So, why is innovation important today? We need to reach all students, to spark their creativity, and encourage them follow their passions and empower them to ask questions and find their own learning path. As an educator, I need to try new things, challenge old ways of thinking, and take risks.  I need to be modeling that for my curious, creative students who come to me every day eager to learn.

“Innovation is a way of thinking. It is a way of considering concepts, processes, and potential outcomes; it is not a thing, task, or even technology.” George Couros, from his book, The Innovator’s Mindset



Building the capacity for learning


Now that the first week of school is done, we are ready to start building capacity for learning.

  1. The first step  is Building the relationship. Many of the posts and blogs I’ve been reading point to providing a safe, calm environment where kids can be themselves. This is true. I need to begin with understanding students’  strengths and growth points. I am spending time asking questions, getting to know who my students are, and what they are interested in. We spend time in our morning CREW meetings talking about favorites and who we are. Before kids can feel safe, they have to know you care about them.
  2.  The second step is Building the culture.  Once you have a relationship with each student, they you are ready to build the culture of the classroom. We are working on how we act in the classroom, towards each other, and in other learning spaces in the school. We focus on four main principles: Be safe, Be respectful, Be responsible, Be kind and have courage ( yes, this is from Cinderella – perfect for our class). We added kindness and courage last year at the request of one of the students, and these two principles really helped us grow together as learners.  I am embracing the power of YET! … and sharing that power with my students. Its ok to begin where you are.  We are all beginning at different places. If you are not where you want to be YET, there is time, and in my classroom, we will get there together.


3. Next, we work on  Building the community. Our class is learning how to function as a group. How we get along with each other. Then we learn how we function in our school community and our local community. We are learning how to connect with other classes around the globe to build our global community too. We must learn about greeting other people and having a conversation with others. We work on taking turns, how one person speaks and others listen, then another person speaks. In our classroom community, everyone has a voice and every voice needs to be heard, even if they want to be silent.

4. Then we work on Building the Content.  As I get to know my students as learners,  we start inquiring about likes and dislikes. I know the curriculum and the standards. We post them as we are learning about them. But the content, how we learn about communities and cultures around the world for example, should come from my students. What if I want to study England, but other students have relatives in Canada or Mexico. I need to be able to offer resources for them to investigate those cultures.  When we are learning about living things, I will model with one animal, and for their own projects, they can choose the animal they want to learn more about. Together, we build the content.

5. Finally, we work on Building our Future.  When students know they have the capacity to learn new things, using a growth mindset, and a lot of grit, they can solve problems in their world and learn to build their future.



A Fresh Start

We are about to begin a new school year, preparing our kids – wherever they are on their learning journey – for their next steps. Every year, it is a fresh start, with new students, fresh goals for the year, and inspired ideas to help us on our way.  My first step in preparing for my new first graders is getting our learning environment ready.

It all began when I walked into my new room at a new school. Here are some “first-look” pictures of the room as I loaded in my personal teacher things.



Some things I noticed right away –  two walls are floor to ceiling bulletin boards and chalkboards, and there is little shelf space for storage. There is a dry erase board on one wall, and just out of view, on the left side of the whiteboard, was a coatrack with 4 hooks on it. There are also two doors in the room, one to the outside where kids line up for class and go out for recess, and one inside, connecting us to the rest of the building.

After talking with several great teachers in my new building, I found out that fabric is the best way to cover up the bulletin boards, and I decided to paint over the brown chalkboards with black chalkboard paint – still magnetic and still usable as a writing space for the students. So, here’s what I did with the walls. I had the coatrack removed, and covered the bulletin board with black polka dots. I have a lot of polka dots in my room:)  For the concrete walls, I am using command strips to hang things, as well as fun tak.

I measured the walls and got blue and green coordinating fabric. I made one side the wonder wall , for students to add what they are wondering about, and a word wall – (I need to add the word “Writing” to the top). There are two chalkboard in the middle for math, and a cozy corner with books and reading tubs on the other side. These wall will be for reading, not yet sure what will go on the walls yet. Then, next to the inside door, I used a red pattern for the end bulletin boards and painted the chalk boards black here as well.  There is plenty of space for students to record their thinking around the room on the chalk boards, as well as on the table. For the table, the legs were cut off to lower it, I had my mom paint the surface with chalkboard paint, so kids can write on it as well, and I added low seating. The cushions are made of 2 – inch foam on top of plywood cut for the top, and covered with fabric. The best part is they are storage – I keep their extra supplies inside, as well as teacher supplies, and some files we need.


For my meeting area, I used our cushions to create an area for all of us to meet in the morning for CREW, and then to be used as a learning space for kids. This faces our white board, which I will use to project onto. All of the spaces in our room are flexible. Different seating, a standing table, a kid sized table and chairs, and low tables for sitting on the floor. I have yoga mats if kids prefer to lay on their bellies to work, too. We share supplies, so each table had their own for all to use, and there are no assigned seats. If there is a child who needs their own space, I have individual tables for that. There are also noise-canceling headphones if someone needs quiet. They can use the cozy corner and the giant FATBOY bean bags there to relax as well.

Along the wall, next to the whiteboard, I have two high tables set up for technology, and other work. It is also a place for me to meet with my students in groups or individually.

First graders come to school filled with curiosity on how things work and want to create things. So, we will start the year by introducing our classroom Maker’s Space. It is equipped with recycled materials, such as cardboard, paper, and plastic. We also have many tools , such as legos, Kiva blocks, K’Nex, and Goldie Blocks, for us to use for showing our thinking. We will start with a design challenge in the first few weeks, using cardboard and tape. In our Maker’s Space, we have many tools to create something new from a box.

Once the kids come in and we get into our routine, we will talk about our room – what’s working , and what we need to fix. They will also help decide what we hang up around the room.

We are still a work in progress.


My Summer Reading List

Ahhh, summer! The time of year to relax and …READ! This is the time of year I love to curl up with a book. I love to read by the pool, in my favorite reading chair, outside under the umbrella on my patio, or anywhere! It is wonderful to get lost in a book during the summer. I am lucky to be a part of a Book Club with several great friends who love to read as much as I do. We meet up once a month, trying out different restaurants and different  experiences ( Canvas and Cocktails, the Upstairs Circus, Water to Wine, book signings, playing BINGO), and oh yeah, we talk about the book we’ve read… unless someone hasn’t finished it yet!  Then we can only talk about the beginning, but not the ending. The best part is when everyone makes recommendations about other books to read. So with those friends in mind,

Here are 5 top picks for my personal reading this summer.

1.  download.jpg Two by Two by Nicholas Sparks . Nicholas Sparks is one of my favorite authors because he has a way with telling unique love stories. This story is about the unconditional  love of a father and daughter and how it grows over time. It is also about family and supporting one another. This was a great read!


2.     download-1.jpgInto the Water by Paula Hawkins.  She is the author of Girl on the Train, so I wanted to read her next book. a single mother turns up dead in a river that runs through the town and leaves behind not only her teenage daughter, but a host of secrets as well. Can’t wait to “dive” into this one!


3. 38447.jpgThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Goodreads says “Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read.” And it will be a miniseries on Hulu soon. This makes me think of all of the rights we have in our society today that are not offered in all cultures around the world. Imagine her courage and bravery during this time!

4. 32498122.jpgThe Identicals by Elin Hildebrand. Goodreads says, “Just because twins look exactly the same doesn’t mean they’re anything alike–and Tabitha and Harper Frost have spent their whole lives trying to prove this point.” I love books by Elin Hildbrand because they bring me back to the beach, and remind me of carefree summertimes when I was younger. I’m looking forward to this beach read!


5. One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline .good reads says, “On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.” You know there’s obviously a twist. Scottoline is a great author who keep you in suspense when you read, so this is definitely on my list.
I am also on a mission to read some professional books to inspire me as I prepare to return to a new school next year. I recently spent some time with fellow educators at two conferences, as well as other professional learning opportunities and have been reminded to be creative,  embrace the chaos, and inspire others on their journey. Here are some of the books I will be reading to help me on my journey.

images.jpg1. LAUNCH by John Spencer and AJ Juliani. This is at the top of my list as a reread. I am in a course called The Innovative Teaching Academy led by AJ Juliani, who is the co-author of this book. I am doing a book study with the group and will be leading one during the school year as well. I love this design thinking model for first graders! It explains the creative process in  easy terms, and can be used in any subject in the classroom. I am excited to be in book clubs reading this!

This youtube video explains it well ( narrated by John Spencer)


2. What Happens When Students Own their Learning ;EMPOWER. by John Spencer and Aj Juliani. This is hot off the presses. Only came out last week! Since I met AJ Juliani in person this month,  I am now a total fangirl! (I look forward to meeting John Spencer at sone point, too) This book! It is all about preparing our kids for ANYTHING! I am reading it now and LOVE it! This should be the next book club read! It’s all about inspiring your students to own their learning.

You can follow them at @ajjuliani and @spencerideas


3. Learning that Lasts by Ron Berger. My school is moving toward an EL model, which is a framework for challenging, engaging, and empowering students with deeper learning. I love how EL and design thinking dovetail. I am excited about learning how to go deeper with my students since this has been something I want to focus on this year. Ron Berger is another fabulous speaker who focused on quality work and refining our thinking.

51DYSwOjDYL._SX365_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg4. The Creativity Challenge: Design, Experiment, Test, Innovate, Build, Create, Inspire, and Unleash your Genius by Tanner Christensen.  Goodread says, “What’s the best way to become more creative? Just change how you think! This book challenges you to go against your default ways of thinking in order to write, design, and build something extraordinary. Featuring more than 100 challenges, exercises, and prompts.” This was recommended by Mr Jed Dearbury, who always says “LOVE FIRST< TEACH SECOND.” I met him at ThinkSpace last week and he reminded us to unleash our creative self.

You can follow him @mrdearbury1


5. The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. This is the book that started an innovator’s revolution for me! Listening to him speak and encourage people to think beyond the box really helped me to shift my thinking. Allowing for students to focus on their natural curiosity has helped me to shift from the “all knowing teacher” to more of a “guide alongside”.  Very motivational and inspiring!

You can follow him @gcouros

I hope you can find something on my list that inspires you! Now, I’m going to curl up with a book!

Moving Up, Moving On


Today is our last day of school. My students will be moving on to second grade and I couldn’t be more proud! They have accomplished many things – big and small. They are builders and dreamers, and problem solvers. They are caring and brave. They can investigate new things and answer the question, “Why?”, and look at how things change over time. They know about being part of a community. They know how to leave the world in a better place. I leave today with a lot of love in my heart because I know these kids will do great things!

Recently, I read this quote  that really put the whole year in perspective for me.

“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts On Common Things


To every student out there,   young or old, keep dreaming, keep believing in you! You can make a difference with some hard work and grit!


What inspires you?

We are back from Spring break, and entering into the last phase of first grade. Many teachers refer to this time as ” The Final Push”. It’s a time where we push our students, our teammates, and ourselves to reach goals, meet deadlines, and prepare to move on. It’s a time of year where we all need some inspiration to run that marathon, one leg at a time, to reach the finish line and finish strong.  So what inspires us to finish strong, and not give up on the road?


Its the kids.

The kids we’ve been moving forward all year. The kids we know can do it if they put in some “umph” and grit. The kids who want to try something new and are figuring out how. The kids who struggled earlier in the year that finally have that”A-ha” moment.

This past week, when I observed students in my class helping each other figure out how to show they know about sequencing, I was inspired. This is our goal this week in literacy. While two students worked together to create a storyboard, another team of students was using our Dash robot to move along a map of the story. Some may call it arguing, some may say they were discussing how to do what they wanted to do. I would say they were using critical thinking – finding solutions to problems, and using perseverance – not giving up when it didn’t work the first time.

This was inspiring.  After showing them how the robots work, they were figuring it out. After talking about critical thinking and what it was, my students were demonstrating it. They had applied their thinking skills to learn something new, together.

When I met with other students to work on writing a how-to book, I was inspired.  I have students that have fabulous ideas in their heads, but need help organizing those ideas on paper. These students had detailed ideas on how to build something, and how to win at Dart Wars. They knew how to sequence them in order, but struggled with this skill when we started the year together.  They were applying what they knew. images-4

I am inspired every day by my kids and what they can do. I am inspired by colleagues who also try something new in their classrooms because they believe its best for kids. I am also inspired by people who take risks to make the world a better place. It is finding that inspiration from people around me that will guide me on this last leg of the marathon. Look for the inspiration on your journey. What inspires you?