Friday, March 4, 2022

Advice From an Orca

As part of our ecosystem unit, the class has been studying whales of the Puget Sound, their environment, and what we can do to help conserve this endangered apex predator.  After learning about the importance of the matrilineage of whale families, students worked in groups to research a particular whale and create a poster to showcase its family tree and other fun facts about the whale.

Through a grant funded by NOAA, we had the opportunity to participate in a virtual field trip to the Whale Museum on San Juan Island as well as to adopt a whale! The class chose Oreo from J-Pod of the Southern Resident whales, and were so excited to be able to support her! This culminating activity was a highlight for us, and we all agreed that we hope to be able to visit Ms. Tracie at the Whale Museum in person some day.  

The students thought about life from the perspective of a whale, and came up with some ideas they felt whales might like to share:

Advice From an Orca

Family first.

Keep an eye open.

Call your friends, every day.

Whisper when you're near us so we can talk.

Stay with your pod.

Trust your grandma and respect your elders.

Work together always.

Be proud of your unique saddle patch.

To learn more about whales, including the incredible orcas, visit 

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Finish the Pictures

When this activity came to my attention, I was curious to try it out. Although the explanation stated that the process and the product would surprise me due to its complexity and demand for higher level thinking, I was skeptical. The task seemed very simple. Regardless, I put my skepticism aside and gave in to curiosity. And boy, am I glad I did! 

Upon first glance, the incomplete picture board looks random and primitive. There are 9 boxes, each with a basic line drawing which could be interpreted in many different ways. The students are tasked with completing the simple pictures and turning them into more complex drawings. Easy, right? Time to elevate the process. 

I used this activity as an extension of our recent novel study of Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. The students enjoyed the story and we worked on summarizing and plot analysis throughout the story. However, I wanted them to really contemplate the theme, or message, of the incredible evolution the main character, Esperanza, underwent as a result of her circumstances. 

The assignment was to complete the pictures in a way that would demonstrate her change from the beginning of the story to the end. In order to ensure a comprehensive and accurate depiction, planning time was mandatory before they put anything down on paper. In order to provide choice, the students were allowed flexibility to determine the order of the boxes. They could use color, or just pencil. They could work alone or collaborate with classmates. They were also reminded to include specific details for each picture. In order to provide a challenge, the students were then required to provide a writing component that described the pictures while explaining the character's change. 

Overall, the students were quite engaged and I was super impressed with everyone's final product! I am already planning some other writing assignments to complete with this innovative, fun, creative activity. 

Click  HERE for a PDF version of the blank "Finish the Picture". 
Thanks to On The Same Page ELT for the idea!

Collaborating to come up with lots of ideas!

Thinking about how to add specific details.

Choosing color or pencil only.

Describing the scene for each picture.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Making Connections

Recently I was introduced to a learning tool called Hexagonal Thinking.  According to English teacher Betsy Potash in Cult of Pedagogy, hexagonal thinking allows students to, ".....see things in new ways as they seek to connect wide-ranging ideas."  I was eager to apply this to our study of the National Park Service in hopes that it would elicit group discussions, thoughtful inquiries, and allow for students to see things through another's perspective, all while exercising their critical thinking skills.  Seemed like an effective way to encourage my students to think in deep and complex ways.

Each group was given a set of hexagons with a phrase or word printed on each one, and together, they were challenged to connect the hexagons in any way that made sense to them.  Essentially, each hexagon could have up to 6 connections, and the students were encouraged to keep moving the hexagons around, debating their placements, until a strong connection was achieved.  Of course, this looks different to everyone, but the students were reminded to keep an open mind while contemplating other ideas.

Prior to this activity, each student chose a national park to research, becoming "experts" on their park.  The Hexagonal Thinking activity allowed the "experts" to apply their specific knowledge and answer classmates' questions about physical features, animals, and activities that may be present in the various parks.  In addition, students used an atlas to determine if the Grand Canyon, located in Arizona, could geographically connect to Yosemite and Death Valley in California or Yellowstone in Wyoming.  Volcanoes were the reason some students chose to connect Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to Mt. Rainier National Park.  It was quickly becoming apparent that some connections were obvious, while some were not.

In order to extend their thinking even further, the students were required to explain their thinking by using specific evidence to support a connection of their choice.  Each group then viewed the others, cementing the idea of how different some of the connections could be. 

We followed up by discussing the importance of collaboration, what it looks like, and how each team member contributes in different ways.  By allowing the students to demonstrate their unique strengths such as brainstorming, organizing, researching, or leading discussions, for example, the activity evolved and came together.  Each student was able to use their individual gifts to contribute to a final product created by the team.  Connections were made to themselves, to each other, AND to the content.  

To learn more about hexagonal thinking, click HERE.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Silver Linings in Virtual Learning

    I always tell my students to look for the silver linings and to embrace the "A-ha" moments. While teaching and learning during the COVID-19 quarantine has been a little on the overwhelming side for both teachers and students, it has also put many of us (teachers) back in the students' chair, and for me, at least, keeps bringing me back to the core of what I love about teaching: LEARNING!

    And, wow, have my students and I been learning a lot! At Seabury, technology has always been an integral and integrated part of our classrooms, but now that is more true than it has ever been. Through this distance learning adventure, my students and I have been learning about and using all kinds of new online platforms and tools, and I just had to share this recent find and how my class has been using it.

    Apparently, there are plenty of techy teachers out there, and Seabury's own tech-whiz, 3rd-Grade teacher Mrs. Meads, has tapped into a Facebook group of teachers sharing awesome resources they have created using Google slides. She recently found and shared this one:

    This math enrichment slide has links to almost every cool math resource I have ever used in 10-years of gifted teaching. I've started customizing this by adding and updating a few links and I plan to add a few more of my favorites, but it was packed with good stuff from the beginning. There are links to fractals, the Fibonacci sequence, adventures in Pi, and links to tried and true math games from geniuses like Greg Tang Math (linked here to Kakooma - a WONDERFUL game for practicing math facts). There's Ken Ken, which is the first math enrichment resource I teach every year. I have taught Ken Ken to every grade from 1st through 5th. I call it "Sudoku with numbers and math equations." It is completely customizable to the right level of challenge for any student. And that is only the beginning of what can be accessed from this one math resource. Whoever created this slide - you are a wonderful teacher and THANK YOU for sharing! I can't believe things like this are being shared freely -- something like this will soon be monetized, I'm sure. (Shout out here to ALL of these wonderful teachers, companies and resources that are providing free accounts and resources for education right now!) 

    Then to develop some accountability, get some feedback, and generate some excitement about the resources on the math enrichment slide, I incorporated this program, Padlet, which allows students to "pin" items onto a virtual bulletin board. Students here shared which resource they liked after exploring the slide for the first time.

    I've been looking for resources like Padlet that allow students who are less comfortable sharing on Zoom to stay engaged and provide input, and I am finding quite a few -- and loving the results. Students who won't say a word in a Zoom meeting will blossom like flowers when they make a Flipgrid video, and these tools are helping us develop more classroom community.  I've also had students post the best resources they found when researching a particular subject in Padlets like this one, which is a great way to give students input and ownership of their own learning.

    So, yes, like every other teacher out there right now, I am working hard to overcome the obstacles we are facing in this new way of "doing school." Along the way, I am gaining a lot of new tools for my teaching toolkit, and the students are exploring some great technology tools and building their own technical repertoires as well. There ARE always silver linings!


Friday, September 18, 2020

Mathematical Myths and Mindsets

ANYONE can be good at math! And MISTAKES actually help your brain grow! Has your child told you that this week? Hopefully this has come up, as we spent the first few weeks of virtual school learning all about how having a growth mindset in math is key to success in this subject area. 

Students watched and discussed a series of videos created by Dr. Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematical Education at Stanford University, which translates Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck's theories of growth vs. fixed mindset into math practices. These practices are designed to promote a growth mindset in math, banish math anxiety and bust some age-old myths about math. Those are ideas like: You have to be fast at math to be good at it. Math is a boring subject all about rote memorization which does not require any creativity. 

At Seabury, we know different! We have learned how the STRUGGLE to understand difficult math concepts, which can sometimes feel overwhelming and frustrating, is just a part of exercising your brain to "build your brain muscle." Students who look at that struggle as an exciting challenge, and persevere in trying to solve problems in different ways, demonstrate much higher levels of achievement in math than students who have memorized algorithms or processes without fully understanding what they are doing with the numbers. This idea of struggle being a GOOD thing is an important concept for gifted perfectionists, who often are not used to being challenged in their areas of strength, and often give up rather than take on a challenge they might not soar through. 

Thank you, Youcubed, for setting us up for a successful year of math exploration and growth! We are already enjoying inspirational math challenges like the Four 4's – part of the "week of inspirational math" on the Youcubed website. 5th graders used Zoom breakout rooms to collaborate on problem sets of 2s, 3s, 4,s and 5s to figure out how to make an equation with a given answer true. It was a great way to dust off our calculation skills and to explore the idea that there is more than one solution to a problem – and that struggling with mathematical thinking can be FUN! 

Here's what some students said about what they learned: 
"I changed my mind about mistakes. Mistakes are great! Mistakes can teach you math in ways some people can’t!" 
 "Yes, your brain grows when you make mistakes." 
 The most important thing I learned: 
"Don't listen to stereotypes." 
 "Math is more used than I thought." 
 "Always take the challenge." 
 "No one is born a math person." 
 "You have to think deeply about the material. It is ok not to be very fast. It is important to be creative." 

Welcome back, Seabury mathematicians!

Interested in learning more? Here's one of the videos we watched:

Monday, June 15, 2020

What is a System?

As we end this banner year, students have been reflecting on our overarching concept: Systems.
The class spent the year visiting local officials, business owners and non-profit organizations in our community to learn about government and civics and dived deep into the role that the Puget Sound plays in our community, learning about water as a resource, tracing stormwater outlets, thinking about the effects of humans on local water systems, and visiting local science-based organizations to learn about the life that exists in the water right next to us.

Students were asked to reflect on questions like:

  • What is a system?
  • What makes up a system?
  • What kinds of systems are involved in our daily lives?
  • How is a community a system?
  • How is ecology or marine biology part of a system?
Here's what several students had to say. I think they got it!

      A system is a set of things, people or businesses working together to create an interconnected network. A city is a system. It is made up of people that connect with each other. The citizens create a living environment for other citizens by making businesses or organizations. These businesses and organizations rely on citizens in order to sustain themselves. A city, town, or any other place with humans requires a smaller system in order to sustain the bigger one. A currency system is one of the most important systems in a civilization. Without money, nobody can live. Food, water, clothing, shelter, and so much more are bought with money. People make businesses where you can buy those things with money. Systems are an important part of life, and without them, pretty much nothing would exist.

      Now, I am taking the example of a human population for all of this, but this could apply to anything. Like a system of nonprofit organizations to help the environment by connecting with each other. Or the system of life, where there are predators killing prey. Even a Rube Goldberg Machine could be considered as a system. It ends up performing a big operation, like putting a marble in a bin using smaller operations, like a toy car hitting a wooden ball into a button. Looking at recent events, I could explain that COVID-19 is also a system. It spreads, therefore interconnects when someone gives the virus to another. There are systems for everything, even very small things.

       Wherever you are and wherever you go, systems will follow you. In a forest, in a desert, anywhere you are, you will always find systems, even if you don’t notice at the time. Keep looking around you. Life is one of the systems that you will almost always find where you are. If you do not identify life, look for others. Systems are beautiful things. Everything in a system cannot work without the other components. Systems are everything in life. They make up life itself. Systems are everywhere, and will always be with you. Just make sure you appreciate them for what they are.

      When you think of a system, you might think of the life system, or the water system. However, not all systems are as simple and easy to comprehend as these. A quick complex system that comes to mind is the economic system. The economy is an elaborate web of sadness and anguish but also joy and false happiness. The only reason there can be such a difference between the two is the wealth gap, a scary, bad system. Overall, though, a system basically is just some continuous thing that happens that uses multiple people or things to operate.

      A system is not always made of the same components. Some simple systems compile of a few steps that cycle on and on for eternity. For example, the water treatment facility. Human waste comes in, the nasty pulp gets processed into Tagro™, and the water from the pulp obviously gets purified into drinking water. The Tagro™ gets food grown from it, the now cleaned wastewater gets drunk (NOT under the influence of alcohol, digested), the food and water go into the human, and so on. More complex systems can follow different routes. Difficult and complicated systems occur more than you think in your normal life.

      Around us, there are countless systems happening at this instant. Many of them we witness are easy to recognize, like the judicial system or the sewer system. There is also a large amount of them that we do not. For example, the shopping system. You probably have bought something once in your life, but never really noticed how advanced just buying items is. If the item is from a farmer’s market, odds are that the vendor was the original producer of the product. However, if you bought a cabbage from a grocery store, they had to buy it from a farmer before selling it to you. If the store you bought the cabbage from is still in business, you know that they ripped you off. If they bought it from a farmer and sold it to you at the same cost that they bought it for, they would not make a profit.

     Community is a great example of a complex system. The fact that the population is growing at all is deep. In the far past, one person would die for every birth, meaning that the population would stay constant. Eventually, more people were born a year than those who died. This birth-death rate went exponentially up and is still going up today. However, scientists predict that the human population will top out at 10,000,000,000 people. This sounds rather daunting, but it is actually quite a  relief, since any more humans could make the earth unable to sustain us anymore.


      A car whizzes by on the road near your house. Two robins fly from the tip of a tree, one with a worm in its beak. You may not realize it, but you are watching multiple systems at work right where you live. Whether it’s the food chain, ecosystem, transportation system or many more, all systems have one thing in common: they are all composed of many parts working together as a whole. Take, for example, our government. The government is composed of three groups, the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. We need all three branches to support our nation. Or the ecosystem, every species matters, some more than others, but if you take to many of them out the whole thing collapses.

      A system is like a tower, built with blocks. By removing one block, not much will happen, but if you start to remove tens and hundreds of blocks, even if you take the ones off of the top, eventually you will be left with nothing. Just look at the ecosystem itself. We are taking out forest after forest, species after species. The system of our earth is starting to fall apart and research shows that if we continue to do this, the earth might no longer be a thing. Just like if you take too many blocks out of a tower. Every system needs its parts, like how a community needs its people. Though is a community a system itself? It has many systems within in, but does that mean anything?  The Merriam Webster’s dictionary definition of a community is "A unified body of individuals." A group of people that are linked together to form a whole, just like a system. A community also works together, just like a system.

      Systems are everywhere and almost everything is part of a system in some way. Systems are the foundations for almost everything, including other systems, and if one system is destroyed many will follow. Systems are all important whether they are big, like the universe, or small, like an animal’s digestive system, and absolutely nothing would exist without them.