The Instructional Edge

W-SR TLC Program Updates


Teachers participating in the SERG professional development group have been working to implement new learning from this year’s activities. The focus for the implementation is based on a teacher’s area of interest for both personal and professional growth, and getting students to engage in learning. The goal is to get to the place where the teacher, content, and students meet. If we can reach that intersection, then students are working to learn, grow, and be engaged in his/her learning. April PD will be sharing the work teachers have done all year.

Project Based Learning PD

During the PBL Focus Group PD on March 23, Lead Teachers Kim Ross, Dave Arns and Tina Graven discussed a variety of ways to increase the likelihood of PBL experiences resulting in high quality products. The LT's provided a number of strategies that they have implemented in their own classrooms to keep their students motivated and on track to produce quality work, while still providing the flexibility and student-choice that is vital to the PBL experience.

Differentiation PD

On March 23, Differentiation Lead Teacher Paul Mugan took our group on a journey into blended learning. Participants were divided into groups and were asked to go through a day in Paul’s classroom. Paul used his website to show teachers the tools that he uses to help personalize the learning for each of his students. Discussion focused on how to benefit and challenge all learners, from high achieving students to students with special needs. Participants left with a better understanding of what it takes to create a blended learning environment.

Elementary PD

On Wednesday, March 30, K-4 classroom teachers met in their buildings to explore the concepts from NCTM's 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions. Teachers worked a sample question from a problem based math lesson and then applied the five practices to their work. Mathematical discussions are an important part of the K-4 math curriculum, with open response math lessons occurring in every unit at every grade level. Our focus on the five practices supports the K-4 math goals of supporting the implementation of new math materials and exploring the Mathematical Practice Standards. Math teachers serving students in grades 7-12 have been studying the NCTM book for the past few months, allowing for a great opportunity for teachers K-12 to work on common practices. If you're interested in learning more about the five practices, or want to dig into them more deeply in your classroom, email a coach.

Mentoring and Induction

On March 17th, 1st Year W-SR Teachers and their mentors meet for one of our monthly meetings. The focus for the afternoon was student and teacher engagement. After reading multiple articles, participants had a round robin discussion sharing insight with each other. Each 1st year teacher had the opportunity to dialogue with a different mentor from a different building. The discussion was positive and beneficial to everyone. We continue to grow together as professionals.

NEXUS Program Piloted at W-SR

As the 2nd Semester started at W-SR High School, Mrs. Egan’s Contemporary Issues students were given the opportunity to be part of a pilot program called NEXUS. This program is initiative-based, project-based and experience-based all rolled into one. NEXUS students were charged with seeking out school and community partners in an effort to identify interest-based projects that can be addressed while applying the content themes of Contemporary Issues (geography, politics, economics, culture, technology). 16 W-SR senior students embarked on this journey, and are involved in guided, independent inquiry that will allows them to produce a meaningful outcome or product for their school or community partner. These outcomes will be up for public display and analysis during a community showcase event in May. Spring 2016 NEXUS initiatives include the following:

  • the construction of school and community Hydroponics gardens that provide organic produce for local food initiatives

  • creation and implementation of a community blogging initiative to create global connectedness through conversations of relevant global issues

  • a feasibility study of, and recommendations for, alternative energy sources for the W-SR School District (solar power and/or wind energy)

  • a community education initiative to provide information about the design and purpose of the Nexus program, in an effort to create more community partnerships for the future of the program.

  • a study and recommendations surrounding 4th Avenue traffic safety concerns

  • education and development of community youth opportunities within the dairy industry

  • research and development of a prototype for a trash wheel that could be utilized locally and/or globally

  • Ash tree replacement initiative: grant writing and receipt, organization of school planting event, sustainable plan for the future

  • develop and implement educational programming for HS aged kids about the topics of physical, mental and sexual abuse awareness

  • research, planning and organization of a future Science Club student trip involving the topic of marine biology

  • research and development of Mental Health awareness: website, hotline, community awareness fundraiser

  • creation of a school based Food Empowerment Education and Sustainability Team

For more information about the W-SR NEXUS Program, contact Instructional Coach Chuck Buseman

Mission Impossible

What do locked toolboxes, messages written in invisible ink and clues taped under tables have to do with student learning? More than you think! Allison Rasmussen and Katie Johnston have been working with 8th grade teams to design learning experiences that are engaging, challenging, and require students to work together as a team. This type of lesson is based on the popular, mystery based entertainment experiences offered in 'breakout' or 'escape' rooms, like the one that recently opened just off Main Street in Cedar Falls. BreakoutEDU is an online community of educators that took the physical experience of an escape room and translated it for use in the classroom. Teams of students work together to solve a series of clues to help them solve their mission before time runs out. Clues can be designed to be content specific (solving math problems, reading clues written in French, etc.), or not. BreakoutEDU also offers a wide variety of games that are ready to use and have been tested in multiple classroom settings- just search by content area or age range. Looking to keep your students engaged in learning now that summer break is near? Willing to try something a little 'out of the box'? Contact a coach to plan a breakout experience for your class!

A Case for Mindfulness in Schools

As a district professional development focus group, we are continuing work that emphasizes SERG(Student Engagement, Resilience and Grit). Throughout our journey as a district, one of the concepts that evolved is mindfulness and the intentional time to create space for mental focus. In the beginning, some teachers and administrators were not easily convinced that the practice of mindfulness was going to do a whole lot for the demographics of our community. However, as our study and practice began, their position shifted when they saw the difference a moment of calm could make. We soon found our students not only needed a moment of calm, but also welcomed and valued it.

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AMLE 2016

On March 10th and 11th, a group of WSR Instructional coaches attended the AMLE conference in Iowa City. AMLE is the Association for Middle Level Education. Breakout sessions included the topics of scheduling, mental health, student engagement, project based learning, and many more. Part of the program included selected participants presenting to the group. There were a total of nine people chosen to present, which included two from the WSR team. Attendees came from a variety of states including Louisiana, Nevada, Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska. It was a great learning experience for all of our coaches.

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Parent Tech Night

During Parent-Teacher conferences, MS parents had the opportunity to meet with law enforcement and Sarah Lalk to hear tips for staying safe online. This event was organized by Mary Foy, Matt Seward, and Barbie Bass.

6 Tips for Staying Safe Online:

1. Be present while your child is online

2. Create a space to "park" devices at night

3. Check the iPad search history

4. Friend/follow your child on social media

5. Limit screen time

6. Model mindfulness

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Historical Implications Through World Languages

Students in Mrs. Kappmeyer’s Spanish 4 class are spending time reading the Spanish version of Esparanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan. Instructional Coach, Kari Staack paired with the class to connect the content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the strong implications that can come from the document, how it relates to other historical events, and also its connection to events in the recent past. Students will be working on a project for the class that brings other historical events to light that represent and connect to the story.

Go-HAWK Pack Program Engages School, Community, World

On March 31, some 600+ Middle and High School students at W-SR participated in the Go-HAWK (Hunger Awareness With Kids) Pack initiative. During this seven hour event, 40,000 meals were packaged and prepared for distribution to the Northeast Iowa Food Bank, as well as several global locations. This day was planned and orchestated by senior students Katie Stewart, Maddie Brewer, Cheyenne Swinton and Kelsie Walsh as the culminating public product of a Project-Based Learning experience within their Ag Business class. More about this event can be found at the Waterloo Courier website.

For more information about Project-Based Learning experiences at W-SR, contact Instructional Coach Chuck Buseman

"Fraction Alchemy" - Game-based Learning in 5th Grade Math

"Students, you have just entered the Alchemy Lab! Your challenge is to earn the most elements and beat the other Research Teams!" 5th Grade math teachers utilize gaming components to teach fractions. Visit their game website:

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Southeast Elementary Kindergarten "Pushes and Pulls" Through Motion PBL

Ms. Miller and her students embarked on a 3 week PBL unit focused on an introduction to Force and Motion. Through a hands-on, student-centered approach, the students were challenged with creating something that shows motion. As Ms. Miller stated, "PBL at the lower elementary level can be challenging and scary at times, but the rewards at the end make it all worth it."

For more information about Project-Based Learning experiences at W-SR, contact Instructional Coach Chuck Buseman

Creating a Culture of Readers

After four months the book club focusing on The Book Whisperer is still going strong! Throughout the winter and spring we've read and talked about what motivates readers, how we can provide additional opportunities for choice and voice in our classrooms, and how to foster positive attitudes about reading for a lifetime. Additionally, we've dug into our habits as adult readers and have shared our book recommendations and current reading titles with one another. Book club was intentionally designed as a 'no strings attached' additional PD offering, with each meeting being an opportunity to talk about what makes a lifelong reader. However, many teachers have made incremental changes in their classrooms, whether by offering regular read-alouds, more opportunities for students to self select their books, or just increasing independent reading time. If you're interested in further exploring how to help students tap into their inner reader, contact a coach!

"Civil War Challenge" - Game-based Learning in 5th Grade Social Studies

5th Grade social studies teachers design a board game to engage students in gameplay while meeting these standards: identify the components of geography; understand the function of common financial instruments; distinguish the role of culture; connect the past, present and future to interpret history.

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For assistance creating a learning game, contact Instructional Coach Sarah Lalk.