The Scream (Reblog)

This post was originally published in 2016.  I think it’s a fitting time of year to bring it back.

We all have things that scare us, of course.  In the book that my 5th grade gifted students are reading, The Giver, the main character is “apprehensive” about an upcoming event.  To help the students connect to the text, I asked them to list some of the things that worry or scare them.  Using our green screen and the Green Screen app by DoInk, I had the students superimpose themselves on the image of Edvard Munch’s, The Scream.  The students then used the WordFotoapp to add their specific fears to the picture.  Here is one result. (You can click on it to see a larger view.)


When I looked closely at this student’s final product, I noticed the word, “division.”  I was a little upset because I had told the students not to put silly things just to get a laugh.  In my mind, division and multiplication would fall into that category, especially since this particular student has never had any problems achieving well in math.

“Why did you put this word when I told you not to put something silly?” I asked him as I pointed at his picture.

He looked at me solemnly.  “I meant the division of people.  You know, how war and other things divide us.”


It’s good I asked…


How to Raise a Brave Girl

In today’s headlines we hear regularly about females who have been mistreated, harassed, and abused.  Yesterday’s post suggested that part of the blame for this is the lack of strong female role models in our media.  Yet, this is obviously a complex and systemic issue that must be addressed on many different fronts.  So, I’m just going to admit that I’m the one to blame.

Those times I chose a boy instead of a girl to go pick up thepackage from the office because I assumed he was stronger.  That time I told my daughter we needed to wait until her father came home so he could fix the faucet.  The many times I told that same daughter to be careful, stay close to me, and to hug relatives she had never met.  In all of those occasions, I have unwittingly strengthened gender stereotypes.  Women are weak and incapable.  Women should be polite – even in uncomfortable situations.  Women should take less risks.

I am a person who enjoys self-reflection.  So, when I view a TED talk like Caroline Paul’s, I am ready to examine my own actions and to grudgingly accept that I have made a lot of mistakes.  My actions have contradicted my own beliefs, contributing to prejudices that I despise.

If you are a parent, teacher, or anyone who is a role model for children, I urge you to listen to Caroline Paul’s recommendations for teaching girls to be brave.  I think it’s excellent advice for us to use with all children.

For more ideas on this topic, check out this post about our “bravery deficit.”

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In light of recent news events, it seems that sexist stereotypes and misogynistic behaviors continue to be supported and trivialized in our society.  The “boys will be boys” attitude persists in all age groups, socioeconomic classes, and cultures despite attempts that have been made in the last few decades to eradicate it.  What can we, as parents and teachers, do to combat the many chauvinistic messages that bombard our children every day?

Inspiring Girls, an international organization based in the UK, has an idea.  Noting that many of our children are exposed at an early age to a multitude of animated characters, the organization also found that only 29% of these potential role models are female.  In a revealing video included on the resources page, a classroom teachers asks her students to draw people in several different professions such as a firefighter and a surgeon.  61 pictures were drawn as men.  5 were women.

The #redrawthebalance campaign from Inspiring Girls wants us to bring awareness to this disturbing example of gender stereotypes, and to help our students see that women can be strong, intelligent, and hard-working as well.  You can find a workbook on the resources page that can be printed with pages that prompt students to draw their own characters, who will hopefully be more representative of themselves.  There are also downloadable posters of characters such as “Carla the Coder,” who are female.

We’ve come a long way since we had to fight for the right for women to vote.  But all we have to do is take a look at the headlines to see that it hasn’t been far enough.

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from Inspiring Girls


Futoshiki Puzzles

These online Futoshiki Puzzles were created by KrazyDad (you can find puzzles of all types on his site here).  The puzzles are similar to Sudoku and KenKen in that you are trying to place numbers in a matrix using logic without repeating digits in any row or column.  The twist is that Futoshiki puzzles provide clues using the inequality symbols for less than/greater than.  Your clues are in comparing boxes that are on either side of the inequality to determine which digits would logically work.

You can do Futoshiki puzzles online here.  Or, you can print out the pages provided by KrazyDad here.

Jim Bumgardner, the man behind KrazyDad, provides practically unlimited puzzle game fun on his site, so once you get worn out on the Futoshiki puzzles I recommend you try some of his other unique puzzles.

image from Wikimedia

Flexible Furniture Flops

So, we all know that “flexible seating” is a trend in classrooms these days.  The idea is to create an environment that allows more comfort and more choice for students.  Some people interpret “flexible” to mean different things.  It’s funny to me (though not mysterious), for example, to see a flexible seating classroom where all of the students have assigned seats.  The chairs vary from beanbags to armchairs, but the students and the chairs stay in the same place.  Then there are the flexible seating classrooms where everything is on wheels: tables, dry-erase boards, chairs, and book-shelves.  These allow for multiple configurations during the day so students can work in groups, be placed in rows for state assessments, or create their own small islands for independent study.

After seeing some examples of flexible classrooms at Harvard, Stanford, and Trinity Universities, I knew that I wanted to give it a try in my classroom.  I slowly started accumulating different furniture pieces, and placing them in my room.  I was trying to be frugal by looking at Goodwill, Craigslist, and various other secondhand sources.  But I realized that it would take me 20 years to find what I had envisioned and decided to start making my own purchases.

I knew I wanted the furniture to be easy-to-clean (preferably vinyl), within a certain color scheme, affordable, and safe for the students.  I also wanted most of it to be “movable.”  My biggest challenge is that I teach gifted students from K-5, and the classes vary in size from 4-19.  Trying to find a setup that would work for various ages of maturity as well as small and large groups slightly overwhelmed me.

I started with the black storage ottomans that you see in the picture below.  I purchased the cubes and the benches from Big Lots, and they have been one of my best investments.  I can keep headphones, robots, and all kinds of things inside them.  They are comfortable and easy to clean.  And, they fold almost flat when I need to put them away.


Our librarian donated a tall table to me when she got new furniture.  This worked well with the barstools (on the back wall) I bought from Wayfair.  The table is also good for students who prefer not to sit while they work.


The “rugs” are actually plastic outdoor rugs that I bought from Cost Plus (sorry, but I don’t see them on their website any longer).  The little black tables came from Walmart, coffee table and end table ($10!)

The awesome picnic chairs in the lower right corner of the picture above were on sale when I bought them from Amazon.  I also got the video rockers (left on the edge of the above picture) on sale ($20 each at the time) from Amazon.

The next picture shows some inflatable ottomans with their mandala covers (removable so I can wash them) that I got at 5 Below.

I really, really wanted a futon/sofa.  I spent a year looking for a used one that fit my mental picture.  I finally decided I was done with searching, and bought this one instead on Amazon.  It was a great deal, considering I didn’t have to move it and the only thing I had to do when it came out of the box was screw on the legs.  You can see it below, next to the foosball coffee table.


Oh yeah, did I mention the foosball table?  So that was not planned.  We had the table at our old house, and had no place for it in our new one.  So, there you go.  Instant distraction/behavior management tool/physics lesson – depending on how you look at it.

Now, one thing I pride myself on when it comes to this blog is telling the truth.  So, I’m going to tell you right now, in case you didn’t already deduce this from the title of this post, that reality struck as soon as students started moving through this learning oasis I had created.  Oh yes, the students oohed and aahed when they walked in for the first time (after a 10 minute discussion about behavior expectations).  They love the room, and breathe relaxed sighs whenever they enter.  But they are kids.

Students rocked themselves out of the video chairs, the foosball table got mysteriously broken, a picnic chair zipper ripped, the pneumatic bar stools shot up so high that my students couldn’t put their legs under the table, and the inflatable ottomans almost became the weapons in a pillow fight.

Pretty much every post that I have read about flexible seating has said that behavior improved in the classrooms where it was implemented.  What was I doing wrong?!!!!

Feeling defeated after the students left one day, I picked up the ripped picnic chair.  It looked irreparable, but I started fumbling with the zipper.  Then I started paying attention and realized that I might be able to fix it.  Ten minutes later, the chair looked brand new.

Next I confronted the foosball table.  We had indoor recess the day before, so I had let the students play.  No one could understand how a rod got broken…  Emboldened by my picnic chair success, I set about working on getting the rod back in place.  Fifteen minutes later, done!

I sat down on an inflatable ottoman and pondered matters.  My students love the room, and they love the freedom of seating choice.  But, I needed to be more explicit about the responsibilities that comes with those freedoms.

And so, armed with a better plan, I welcomed the next class into the room and quickly moved students who made poor choices about using the furniture to traditional chairs and tables.  After two students got moved, things began to settle down.  As we transitioned to different activities and students changed places throughout the day, I noticed less attention being paid to the seating and more attention directed to the learning.  At the end of the day, when it was time for clean up, everything was returned to its original spot.

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As the novelty wears off, the students are making better choices.  They know they will all get a chance to sit in every spot, as long as they show they can handle the responsibility.  In future weeks, they will hopefully be helping to decorate this place that belongs to all of us.  We are going to work together to flip our furniture flops into forgotten footnotes of a fabulous year!

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In 2016, I attended SXSWedu, and wrote this post about some speakers who gave us the key ingredients that contribute to the success of the Finnish education program.  I mentioned that, as a celebration of its 100th year of independence, Finland was endeavoring to collect case studies of 100 of the most innovative educational projects around the world to be published on a website.  In addition, Finland shares 100 of its own programs.  The website was completed earlier this year, and you can find incredible inspirations on it that may give you ideas for your own next contribution toward education reform.  You can find the HundrED innovations here.  By either clicking on the map or doing a keyword search that can be filtered by age group, type, and category, you will see some of the extraordinary ways that educators are reaching children on every inhabited continent.  Click on one that interests you (and I promise you will find more than one!), and you will be given a summary of the program, as well as steps for implementing it.  This is a great gift from Finland, as it not only informs us but also shows us what we need to do in order to participate or replicate the program.

I have definitely not had a chance to look at all of the innovations, yet, but here are a few creative ones you may want to start with:

Thank you to Finland for this phenomenal collection, and Happy Anniversary!

image from Pixabay

8 Halloween BreakoutEdu Games

Warning: Once you do any kind of BreakoutEdu game in your class, your students will beg you for more.  On my first day back with my 5th grade GT class this year, the most pressing question they had was, “Are we going to do another BreakoutEdu game today?” (We didn’t – but only because I don’t like to be quite that predictable.)

BreakoutEdu often provides games around holiday themes, and Halloween is no exception.  You can find their list of 8 Halloween games, suited for different ages and group sizes, here.  Remember, you will need to register, for free, in order to receive the password that gives you full access to the games, set-up instructions, and printables.

If you teach in a non-Halloween classroom, or just want to add even more fun and hijinks to the learning, here is a page of Global Read Aloud themed games from BreakoutEdu. Or, just go down that rabbit hole, and start on this page, which has all of the categories of games that you could possibly need.

Oh no!  Did this dog just “Breakout?”  Don’t worry, the sheriff is on the case! (image from Petful)

Great Minds Don't Think Alike!

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