Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Let's Dance The Last Dance

Hi Everyone! If I weren't so tired, I would be getting a little misty here as I type this last newsletter of the year. I know they have fallen away a bit, but I hope they have been of some use to you over the months. They'll pick back up again when we start school in August... But let's not think about that now.

The next couple of days are going to be busy, but I am happy to report that the room is just about packed up thanks to the help of some really great Gagner Gang members. We have done just about all there is to do in our year together with the yearbook put to bed, final assessment results loaded into our reporting systems, report cards printed out, Field Days and the School Picnic all done, and our end of the year trip to Camp Common Ground in the rearview mirror.

I want to thank all of our parent chaperones who helped make CCG possible. We really can't do this trip without you and it does take two days of your life, so we know it's no small commitment. Big ups to George and Karen Parker, Kim Clark and John McNerney, Kristin Blanchette, Melissa Beatty, Maura Nydegger, and Jamie Oberle. I also want to thank all of our room parents for helping make our trip a success by sending prepared and polite kids to school. While at camp, some folks started talking about a city trip for next year. Kelly and I are more than willing to go down that road, so if that sounds good to you, we should probably get a team together to do some research.

Okay, I lied. I do have a couple of things to say about next year. Step-Up Day is tomorrow and we will be together as a new team for the first time. There will be 21 students in the room next year, if numbers stay the same as they are right now. This includes a couple of kiddos from Ms. Primo's class as well as an incoming crop of fourth-graders. At 21, we will only have a net gain of three students, so I am hoping that the room doesn't feel much for crowded than it does now. I will send a letter home tomorrow with a list of essentials for next year. It shouldn't be too much news to you but be on the lookout for it just the same. I'm hoping that we get the master schedule today, so that I can start noodling around with what next year looks like. As soon as I have it, I will share a first draft for you to either dig into or totally ignore until August, for which I don't blame you a bit!

Tomorrow is action-packed, starting with an All-School Meeting followed by an All-School Walk. We will be celebrating Ms. Way's retirement as well as the departure of a few other teachers and staff throughout the day. Step-Up is at 12:30pm and there will be a sixth-graders versus staff kickball game at 2:30pm in the lower field. Last year, we beat the students by about five or six hundred percent and I am gunning for a repeat this year, make no mistake!

Promotion is scheduled to begin at 10:30am on Thursday. The after-party is being organized by Emmy Harvey, so please contact her if you need details. Karen Parker and Vicki Bronson are two names I know are associated with the Promotion ceremony details; Kelly, Sharon, and I have the schedule of the hour-long event all set. Miss Carina will be once again conducting a music showcase, which will start at 10am.

I feel like there are about four dozen things that I should be telling you. If you have any questions for me, don't be shy!

Thanks for a great year. As far as repeats go, let's help our rising sixth graders into their leadership roles next year and send good vibes to our almost-middle schoolers as they embark on their next journey as well.

Have a great summer!

p.s., This is our tradition. We take a picture on the first day of school (above) and recreate it on the last (below). My, oh, my how we've grown!

August 2015
June 2016

Monday, May 9, 2016

May Is Here!

Hi Everyone!

As the year winds down, I like to give more sporadic updates and stick to the nitty gritty because we're all starting to fray a little at the edges and who needs my verbose missives, witty as they are. Please ask your kiddo about what we are up to in Humanities, Literacy, and for the Innovation Faire. Just because I am not detailing it on the blog doesn't mean that there isn't a heck of a lot happening around here!

The 5/6 team is heading to the Fine Arts Festival on Wednesday afternoon. We will eat lunch on the green at Mount Abe (pray for sun!) and then tour the gallery and see a presentation of Bread and Puppet Theatre. We'll be back by 2:30pm. Everyone needs a bag lunch!

If you want to buy a yearbook ad for your student to commemorate sports, scouts, school, or other cool stuff they do, please let me know. We want to make sure we save room for it. You can send me pictures and text and I can do something for you or you can design something in Microsoft Word or Microsoft Publisher (or Photoshop, if you're fancy) and send it to me.

Please also remember to look for the yearbook preorder form in the MCS newsletter. Sixth graders all get a gratis copy, but we want to make sure we order enough for everyone else who wants one.

We are just about set for our Camp Common Ground trip. A Behavior Contract on green paper went home last week. That needs to be signed and returned by Thursday, May 12th. The $25 and permission slip can come back any time in the next week or two. Chaperones were emailed a link to sign-up for kitchen patrol; if you didn't get it, let me know. We will have a more formal memo for chaperones in the next week or so, just so you know what's in store on this trip!

Important Dates:
  • In-Service - Friday, May 13th (no school for students)
  • Talent Show - Thursday, May 19th at 1:30pm
  • Dynamic Landscapes conference - Tuesday, May 24th (some students may attend with me)
  • Innovation Faire - Thursday, May 26th
  • Memorial Day - Monday, May 30th (no school for anyone!)
  • Camp Common Ground - Wednesday & Thursday, June 1st and 2nd
  • Field Days & School Picnic - Friday, June 3rd
  • Last Day of Math - Tuesday, June 7th (dry your eyes)
  • Promotion & Last Day of School - Like you need me to tell you

Monday, April 11, 2016

April Showers Bring Us Powers

Greetings! I apologize that the blog is woefully out-of-date. Don't be fooled into thinking that, because I haven't posted in a bit, there's nothing good going on around here.

If you get the MCS school newsletter, you will see that I have had a busy couple of weeks. On March 30th, I, along with ANESU Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca and Innovation Coach Caroline Patrie, went to the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier for a day-long celebration of innovative educators from around the state of Vermont. It was really inspiring to hang out with other teachers who are doing the kind of interesting and progressive things that I am drawn to. I am also newly returned from Boston, where I spent two days at the Museum of Science learning how to teach the Engineering is Elementary STEM program. The workshop strand I chose to participate in focused on integrating math in engineering and design. I was heartened, again, to be in a room with teachers who value the kind of teaching and learning that takes place in Room 110 already! As part of my scholarship to participate in EiE, I will also be getting a kit for one of the EiE units (there are 20 to choose from!) and other ancillary materials as my scholarship allows. I am very excited to choose my unit (I have narrowed it down to three possibilities based on our science content for next year: one about water filtration, one about cleaning up oil spills, and one about solar power... choices, choices!).

Our Innovation Faire planning seems to be humming along for most teams. By now, everyone should have an innovation goal in mind. We are working on developing a persuasive piece to help prove that such an innovation is necessary and developed the Flowbee Test as our metric (Does it solve a problem or fill a legitimate need? Is it a true improvement on the existing system or method?). Students are finding evidence through research to support the need for their prospective innovation and many groups are building a strong case for the work they are doing. I really encourage you to talk to your innovator about her/his project plans; being able to communicate the what and the why for this project is essential!

We kicked off our Civil War unit last week by starting one of the "Choose Your Own Learning Adventure" activities together. In this activity, we examined paintings and photographs of the time and used them as a window to the emotions, politics, and general zeitgeist of the era. While I was in Boston, students who have Lit Circles with me self-managed their first week's worth of reading and response by meeting to discuss their selection and then using Google Classroom to synthesize their notes and the group chatter. I have a TON of reading to do to catch up to these killer readers!

Speaking of our reading prowess, I am sure you heard, but ICYMI, the Gagner Gang took home top honors in the MCS Read-A-Thon! We logged the most minutes of any class and earned ourselves an ice cream party, which will be held on Friday the 15th after lunch. I am really proud of the class for stepping up to take on this challenge. The Read-A-Thon made readers of us all and that is a beautiful thing! I am also pleased to announce that our own Owen K. was the top fifth-grade reader, another fantastic honor for our crew!

We are just a few short days away from a much-deserved April Break and I really can't believe that we have just seven "ish" weeks left of school this year. The gang and I counted down and, once we get back from Break, we have five days in April, 20 days in May, and six-and-a-half days in June. That's only 31.5 days of school! Seems like only yesterday that we were starting on this journey. My how far we have come.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Spring Into Action

Greetings of the new season! Just like everywhere else, Room 110 is following the forecast trying to get outside as much as possible on those sunny days and silently crying, "Why, oh, why?" when we get that weird combination of flurries and rain known as a "wintry mix." Darn you, wintry mix!

Many of you might have heard about our biggest springtime endeavor, the Innovation Faire. This year, we have decided to one-up ourselves on the success of last year's first Monkton Mini-Makerfaire by adding an innovation component. We charged the 5/6 team to do what all good innovators (and sci-fi writers) do: don't predict the car, predict the traffic jam. By identifying problems or potential problems in the world, even as locally as our school building and Monkton community, the kids are truly positioning themselves as the problem-solvers of tomorrow. The Faire will be on May 26th here at MCS from 1-2pm in the Gym. You can keep up with your innovator's progress on the wiki for the project. Every student has a page and will be adding to it weekly, essentially keeping a design journal online.

One of the things that makes this Faire truly innovative from the perspective of the 5/6 teaching team is that, instead of being able to pick partners, we completely randomized group selection, literally drawing names out of a hat to form the three-member student teams. Trying as always to mirror real life to the extent that we can, we realize that it is important to be able to work with and find strengths of a variety of different work partners. Plus, the reality of always being able to work with your BFF is one that disappears pretty quickly the older we get. What's important is learning to use these experiences to get the job done, but also meet new people and learn about yourself and how you best operate in the process.

Over in the other half of our Humanities program, our supremely popular Lewis and Clark unit is about to wrap up. We will conclude our simulation and project time this week, spend a day (maybe two) next week doing a crash course on pioneers and other later Westward Expansion highs (gold!) and lows (Donner Party!), and start the Civil War the week after. That will be our last formal unit of the year. Yikes!

The Civil War unit is one of my favorites. I wrote it for a graduate class and it is incredibly hands-on and includes a lot of arts integration. The students will work, much like they did for Lewis and Clark, to collect points by choosing and completing any combination of some 30 individual activities, some complex and lengthy, others that can be done in a class or two. The literacy complement of this unit will be in the form of literature circles (aka, book clubs) in which groups of students will read on their own and meet to discuss the week's assigned chapters together. The joy in this is that I get to read a handful of new books each time we do this; I like to be as surprised as the students are, so I don't typically read ahead! This year, the students picked either Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, Stolen Into Slavery: The True Story of Solomon Northup, Free Black Man by Judith and Dennis Fradin (made into the movie Twelve Years A Slave), Freedom's Wings by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, or Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson.

Plans for an overnight to Camp Common Ground still exist and we are eternally greatful to the parents who embarked on the fingerprinting/background check extravaganza. I know just about all of you have hit a snag in the process, so please don't hesitate to call the main office here at school if you are hung up.
SBAC Schedule 2016
March 28
5/6 Math

3/4 Math

5/6 Math
5/6 Math

3/4 Math
5/6 Math make-ups

3/4 Math
April 1
5/6 ELA

3/4 ELA
3/4 ELA

5/6 ELA
3/4 ELA

5/6 ELA
5/6 ELA

3/4 ELA
3/4 ELA make-ups

5/6 ELA make-ups

Hot Dates
  • March 28th-April 8th: SBACs
  • March 28th-April 1st: Spirit Week! (Monday, PJ Day; Tuesday, Match/Twin Day; Wednesday, Mismatch/Clash Day; Thursday, Crazy Hat/Hair Day; Friday, Freaky Friday/Costume/Dress-Up Day)
  • April 1st: Festival of Fools schoolwide event (afternoon)
  • April 18th-22nd: Spring Break (yahoo!)
  • May 13th: In-service (student day off)
  • May 30th: Memorial Day recess
  • May 26th: Innovation Faire
  • June 1st & 2nd: CCG trip (fingers crossed!)
  • June 9th: Promotion (morning) and LAST DAY OF SCHOOL!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

February Winds Down

Greetings! Hope you had a nice week off. We're back at it, in the groove like vacation never happened (but, like, in a good way). That's the power of a community that knows how to gel. Love that. I've got all sorts of information to share, so let's get right to it with some academic good stuff. There is also a slew of tidbits at the end.

The crew is really loving our Lewis and Clark team-based learning activities that kick off our Westward Expansion unit. It has been awesome to see so many of the teams organizing, keeping each other on track, and shelling out tons of self-direction and creativity. This is part of a packaged unit--which I don't tend to hang my shingle on--from the Interact company. I do have a unit of my own that I wrote when I was at Hinesburg that gets at many of the same themes as the Interact, but I thought I might try something different this year. I'm glad I did because the kids are really digging it. In fact, many are choosing to work on the Corps of Discovery tasks at Genius Hour and during any scrap of academic choice time we have. The unit is really letting the history buffs in the room (of which there are a TON!) spread their wings and fly into all sorts of pursuits from geography and mapmaking to Native American cultural studies and the civics and philosophy behind the truly American idea of Manifest Destiny.

Not to be outdone, our weekly Physics Club time is helping everyone understand why the universe and, by extension our little planet, works. Talking about gravity, friction, energy, planetary motion, and well, you know, general relativity, has sparked all kinds of curiosity and great discussion. The end product of this massive undertaking, the "One Ring To Rule Them All," if you will, is an art, design, and engineering technology ("STEAM") challenge wherein kids will work in teams to prototype and build a vehicle that goes at least 10 feet and also tells a story. I'm mirroring this activity on the Oddysey of the Mind challenge that took my eighth grade team to the international finals back in 19... Well, long ago at any rate... It's also aligned with Next Generation Science Standards for both physics, earth and space sciences, and engineering and design tech. Plus, it gets at my next professional development dreams of unifying science and art, a natural combination if there ever was one!

I want to give a shout out to John McNerney who has been hanging out at Genius Hour the past few weeks to help us get one of our new 3D printers operational. Thanks John! One of the goals of our new 3D printing capability is for our classroom to become part of the eNable network and help print, assemble, and even design prosthetic hands for kids around the world. Many students have dipped into TinkerCAD design programs already; still more have printed something to get a feel for that as well. I'm pumped to say that a group of students set up our other 3D printer and are helping me and each other learn the ins and outs of that device, which uses the cloud to print.

First things first: it's almost the end of the second trimester (what the what?!), which means it's conference time. Here is a link to the Sign Up Genius if you'd like to spend 20 minutes chatting about your student's life in Room 110. Report cards will go home on March 10th and we have no school on the 11th.

Former MCS students, now seventh graders, will be visiting on April 26th as part of transition. This is a meeting for sixth graders to ask burning questions and get answers from kids they know. Parent meetings of all sorts will be coming up this spring and we'll forward dates, times, and locations as we know them. Middle school principal Ellen Repstad is also really great about using Front Porch Forum for these announcements, too.

Common Ground
A hearty crew of Gagner moms and dads has stepped forward to help us make our end of the year camping trips a reality by chaperoning the event (June 1st and 2nd). We can use some more if you're looking for a fun way to spend a Wednesday night. Let me know and I'll send the forms home. We can also use folks to hang out on the site, help with meals, and that sort of thing, so the commitment doesn't have to be an overnight one.

SBAC testing will happen between March 28th and April 8th this year. Everyone has a frame of reference for this test after last year. I don't anticipate it to be anything greater than or less than last year. No stress, no worries, and in the rearview a.s.a.p. Once we settle on a schedule, I'll pass it along so that we can make sure restful nights and heathly breakfasts are on deck.

I'm told lice are in the house. Yay! Nurse Mack distributed hair ties for those who need them and advises that we keep our hair up for the next couple of weeks. Psychosomatic itching starts in 3... 2...

It is Sponsor Pledge time with the Read-a-thon! We had our our Pledge Kick-off for the Read-a-thon PTO fundraiser just before the February break and sent home Sponor Pledge envelopes with students to find sponsors for a month long of reading from March 4-April 4th. Our theme is "Launch into Reading!" Students will be asking their family, friends and neighbors to support them by pledging a per minute amount or a flat rate for the total minutes they read. We know that there may be children who find it difficult to find sponsors, so if you are a community member who would like to sponsor a child's reading, please call call the school and sign up with Cindy Castle. If you are a parent whose child needs a sponsor, please let your classroom teacher or Holly Esterline know (they will be anonymously matched with a sponsor). Thanks ahead of time for your generous support of our students! It is both a fundraiser and a celebration of reading! For more information, you can check out our blog at:http://www.mcsreadathon.blogspot.com/ Reading logs will be sent home next Friday, March 4th for the Read-a-thon to begin!

Friendly reminder: iPods, iPhones, and cell phones in general are not to be used in the classroom unless it's for learning and has been approved for an activity by moi. Students who cannot adhere to this policy will be asked to leave their gadgets either at home or in the main office from 8am to 3:15pm.

Monday, February 8, 2016


Howdy y'all! Can you believe it's already the week before February Break? Now, I know that the stint between February Break and April Break is the slog of all slogs (eight weeks!!) but after that, summertime will be just about in plain sight.

Which brings me to my first bit of business. Our trip to Camp Common Ground is actually the overnight of June 1st to the 2nd, not the 2nd to 3rd as I reported in the last post. We still need chaperones, so please consider coming with us. This is such a fun trip! We do have some duties for our chaperones, but it's also, to my mind, a really relaxing time to hang out and let the kids be kids! Among the things we need chaperones to do are stay in the cabins with students (your own child and 3-5 others); assist with meal prep and service; engage the students in activities (both the ones we plan with CCG and ones you choose to pursue on your own); and make sure everyone is having fun, being safe, and feels included. Please let me know if you are interested in chaperoning and I will send the paperwork home with your kiddo. ANESU will reimburse you for the fingerprinting process, but it needs to be scheduled sooner rather than later.

The 5/6 teachers received an email from Ann Fisher at Mount Abe announcing that she will be coming around to all of the elementary schools to begin meeting with teachers around sixth-grade transition to middle school. In April, MTA will be collecting names of sixth graders who might be ready for the compacted math class. Ms. Primo and I will be using our math assessment data as well as our anecdotal observations of students to send the names of any students who meet the criteria for the compacted class. More information about all of this will be coming down the lines. I tell you now because it's on the horizon as we look to the last three full months of school!

We will have a Valentine's Day celebration on the afternoon of Friday, February 12th. MCS will be doing an all-school walk/run at 1:30 and then we will come back to the room to chill, pass out Valentine's and have a snack. I am not sending out a formal sigh-up but if you want to send in a treat, please feel free. Reminder, there are 18 students in the class. We will send Carly's valentines to FAHC.

Attention friends of Carly, Ryan, Corey, and Jennifer Rougier: as many of you know Carly has been very sick with Meckel's Diverticulum for 20 days and she has been in the hospital for ten of those days. She still has more recuperating to do at the hospital and maybe more at home too. We are setting up a meal delivery site at www.lotsahelpinghands.com to help support the family during this difficult time. All you have to do is go to the site and look for the Rougier Family community, email to be a member, and sign up on a day to provide a meal. All meals can be dropped off at Rougier Bros. Auto Shop on Boro Hill Rd. in Monkton. Thank you for your caring support!

Monday, February 1, 2016

In Love With February

We continue to show the world how it's done from little old Room 110. I haven't done an official blog post in a couple of weeks, but enough has come up recently that it seemed like a good time to fire one across your bow.

Ms. Esterline and I pulled together a March Madness-style tournament for this year's DCF books that will start up next month. This month we are gearing the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders up to be participants in our local DCF event as well as the traditional Five Towns DCF Tournament. Everyone in our class decided to commit to reading at least two of the DCF books in the next eight weeks and we are going to make art installations for each book that hang in the room. Owen, Maia, and Anni have taken the lead on setting up mobiles for each book that kids will be able to add a recommendation, thought, opinion, idea, illustration, or other contribution to once they have read the book. The goal is not only to read, read, read, but to reflect, share, and also heat things up as we work together on this class reading goal.

Speaking of reading, it's a good time to remind everyone of our reading homework expectations. Basically, for every day of school we have in a given week, one less half-hour unit of reading homework is due. For example, in a five-day week, four units are needed. In a four-day week, three units, and so on. Snow days (though I don't think we have to worry about them...) count as school days, unless they are on Friday. So, if we have a snow day on a Tuesday of a five-day week, the expectation of four units of reading (at a minimum) still stands. Students who are ill are often able to read and choose to do so on their sick day(s); it's a grey area that I don't much fuss with. Students are always welcomed to read more and bank the units they don't use to take time off during a hectic week. Reading homework is not complete without a parent signature and the title of what was read. Students who do not have enough half-hour units or are lacking a signature(s) must stay in for recess on Friday and make up the reading during Genius Hour.

Genius Hour has been an exciting time with our 3D printers up and running. Thanks to John McNerney for helping calibrate our Lulzbot Mini and to Sage, Maia, and Anni for taking the lead on setting up the Polar. Stephanie and Aaron have started learning how to use the Cura software program that talks to the Lulzbot and the crew who has been patiently learning the ins and outs of the Polar is getting quite adept at working in the cloud. A large group of students are using TinkerCAD to design useful items to print and still more have taken on the eNable Create T.I.M.E. design challenge. This 3D printing design challenge is being presented by the folks I first met when Sierra Petrocelli took an interest in 3D printing prosthetic hands a couple years ago. She remains an inspiration, as does Sage and the whole Petrocelli clan, who made us aware of this fun design challenge that could directly help kids who use prosthetic hands for day-to-day living. Ask your student if they are participating in the eNable challenge or what they are working on during Genius Hour. There has been a lot of great stuff happening in the room, including opportunities to collaborate with kids in Ms. Primo's class, which is always nice.

On Wednesday morning of this week, I will be at Middlebury College hanging out with THE FIRST FOLIO!!! If you want to check it out, there are a few free public events going on. The book is on a whistlestop tour of the 50 states and Midd is the chosen landing spot for its time in Vermont. Lucky us it didn't land in Enosburg or Derby Line.

In other professional developments, I was recently announced as a recipient of an IGNITE award, presented by Vita-Learn, a Vermont educational organization. I will be attending that award ceremony at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier at the end of March and have chosen ANESU Innovation Coach Caroline Camara and Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca as my guests. Both have accepted my invitation and will be joining me, which feels pretty great. Also, in the same week, it was announced that I received a scholarship to participate in the Engineering is Elementary program offered through the Museum of Science in Boston. I will be going down to Beantown in April to attend a two-day workshop and fill the Audi up with curriculum goodies to bring back to Room 110 for the kids to get their hands on.

We will celebrate Valentine's Day in a casual way on the afternoon of Friday, February 12th. If you would like to send in a snack for the group, please do. If it's still cool to exchange Valentine's 9and I think it is, really), we have 18 total students in the class so please make sure your student has a card or treat for everyone.

I'd like put out another APB for an aquarium. Our guppy farm is a hoppin' joint and we do need to think about putting them in a larger aquarium for kindness's sake. If you have a 10-gallon aquarium or larger that you are not using, we would love to borrow it for as long as you can live without it.