Godzilla Gazette, 31

Week of April 13, 2015


  • From Grace
  • The Reflective Practitioner
  • Weekly Events
  • For Your Information

From Grace

Hello, everyone! Happy middle of April to you all! I always think this is one of our busiest times as a school but, after careful reflection, realize that there isn't ever a non-busy time for us. That's one of the reasons this work is so dynamic - it's ever changing and there's never a chance to get bored. Awesome! I do recognize, however, that we're closer to the end of our school year's journey than we are to the beginning of it and even amazing travel can be tiresome sometimes. So remember to do something that sustains you and helps you rejuvenate. Commit a Random Act of Kindness, say hi to someone, smile - let's end our journey strong.

You've heard lots of talk in the last few weeks (and throughout the year, honestly) about transforming how we do our work. Putting authentic learning in place that helps our students master the 4 Cs of 21st Century Learning: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity is our charge. This is important for our students and for us as we continue to evolve as a school and make sure we're providing the best education possible for our kids. The good news is that we're already doing much of this throughout the building and we'll continue to strengthen our knowledge and practice of incorporating project based learning, maker space, and genius time into what we do. It's super exciting!

This week's Reflective Practitioner offers some practical advice for how we can fit PBL into what we do. The expectation for next year is that everyone will incorporate at least one authentic PBL opportunity each semester but how? Read on to discover examples of inquiry based education to get students excited about what they're doing and master the curriculum. There are two videos embedded in the article - one from a Texas teacher - and one about rockets. You'll have to click on a link to the second one but it's well worth it! :)

Happy Spirit Week - have fun, celebrate your kids and each other, enjoy learning!

The Reflective Pracitioner

"Fitting In" PBL

Beth Holland

Instructor and Communications Coordinator at EdTechTeacher


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April 10, 2015

Regularly, teachers tell me that they don't feel as though they have time for project-based learning (PBL). While they like the idea in theory, they can't see a way to realistically "fit it in" with their curriculum given constraints of time, testing, standards, etc. A regular response to the concept of PBL is: "It sounds great, but. . . " Too often, they see it as a manufactured experience that results in the construction of a massive project and requires enormous amounts of class time. However, I believe that this is often because the emphasis is on the final product rather than the instructional strategy.

The true focus of PBL is encouraging students to engage in inquiry, explore real-world contexts, and share their learning with others. In the examples below, every teacher achieves these goals while still meeting curriculum requirements and without sacrificing an abundance of class time. While PBL may seem daunting, these teachers prove that it is more attainable and manageable than initially perceived.

Coming Out of Hibernation

With spring approaching, Meghan Zigmond's first grade class began to explore the concept of hibernation. She wanted her students to engage in the inquiry process, make a personal connection to the content, and then showcase their learning. To kick off this event, they read Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner and then started asking questions like, "How do animals sleep so long?"

To support their learning, and to get them to conduct some independent research, Meghan combined a series of books at an appropriate reading level with a ThingLink of multimedia resources. Students wrote and drew to capture their thinking and then ultimately shared their learning by creating short videos that Meghan could post to her blog. While the reading and note taking occurred over several days, the focus in Meghan's class was on the process of asking questions and then constructing understanding -- not on a massive project. In fact, most of their final videos were under 20 seconds.

Inquiry in the Middle School Math Class

"Why do we have to know this?" is a common question in math classes. Unfortunately, students often don't have an opportunity to see math "in the wild." Instead, they repeatedly work through textbook problems and then progress to the next disparate set of skills.

In Kyle Pearce's classroom, however, students engage in 4-Part Math:

  1. Minds On: Warm-up activity to review previous knowledge
  2. Inquiry: Discovery challenge for the day rooted in real-world context
  3. Connections: Share solutions and ideas
  4. Consolidate: Apply context to "textbook"-type problems.
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Each class period progresses through this four-part process with a heavy focus on inquiry. Rather than force students to work through a problem absent from a real-world situation, Kyle engages them in discovery challenges that require them to apply prior knowledge and construct new understanding so that "they will ultimately 'bump into' the learning goal along the way."

Each day builds on the discoveries of the previous one, allowing Kyle's students to consistently tackle increasingly complex problems.

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As Heather Wolpert-Gawron writes, "PBL doesn't ask you to replace your content. It asks that you create a vehicle in which to communicate your content." In Kyle's classes, students not only gain the requisite mathematical knowledge, but also valuable experience in applying their understanding to the world around them.

Teaching the World

For Jodie Deinhammer, it all started with a simple question: "How can we help improve our world?" Her anatomy students recognized that children have an innate desire to learn, but not always the opportunity. With that in mind, they began creating iTunes U courses and iBooks to teach other kids. This year, her students are collaborating with classes in New Zealand, Kentucky, and Minnesota to tackle this challenge.

Health EDU

Jodie uses PBL as a framework to guide the overall planning of her course. On the first day of school, she has no actual lesson plans -- only goals, objectives, and hopes. She uses her students' interests and questionsto guide and modify the topics that she needs to address in accordance with the TEKs. They engage in inquiry, discussion, collaboration, and sharing. Throughout the year, students create components of these larger endeavors in manageable pieces and share them through a class portfolio as well as their iTunes U courses -- all while meeting the prescribed Texas state standards.

"Fitting In" PBL

Chris Lehmann, founding principal of the Science Leadership Academy, has often said, "If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that's not a project, that's a recipe." With 20+ cookie-cutter rocket ships staring her in the face, Christine Boyer realized that she needed a new approach to her Rocket Project. Rather than have every student use the same template to create the same rocket with the same materials, she challenged her students to build a better rocket.

Over eight weeks, her students researched Isaac Newton and rocket design, iterated and tested, documented and reflected. They learned physics, data analysis, nonfiction narrative writing, design thinking, and collaboration. As Christine says at the start of the documentary of her project, "We assign kids things because we want them to get through the curriculum, but what we really want is for them to become innovative thinkers." (Grace says, It is worth it to click the link and watch this video - good stuff!)


As each of these teachers have illustrated, at the heart of PBL lies the power to engage students in meaningful inquiry and immerse them in real-world context. When it becomes a lens through which to view curriculum, it can be a powerful strategy to help students make meaningful connections to their learning -- and it fits in with the curriculum.


Weekly Events

Librarian Appreciation Week!

Monday, April 13, 2015 - A Day - Pajama Day!

  • C-PALLS, TPRI & DRA EOY Window Opens
  • Fitnessgram Assessment Window Opens
  • STAAR Organization - 9:30-11:30 am - Office - Grace, Elise
  • Intensive Behavior Training - 12:00-3:00 pm - TBD - Brett, Liliana
  • Parent Meeting - 12:00 pm - Office - Grace
  • MFE Meeting - Library - 2:00 pm - Grace

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - B Day - Black and White Day!

  • STAAR Organization - 8:00-10:00 am - Office - Grace, Elise
  • Parent Meeting - 9:35 am - Office - Grace, Alma
  • Cinco de Mayo Planning Meeting - 3:00 pm - Library - All interested

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 - C Day - STAAR Dress Up Day

  • STAAR Organization - 8:00-11:00 am - Office - Grace, Elise
  • Intensive Behavior Training - 12:00-3:00 pm - TBD - Brett, Liliana
  • Staff Yoga - 3:00 pm - Music Room - All Invited

Thursday, April 16, 2015 - A Day - 80's Day!

  • CST Meeting - 10:10 am - Office - Elise, Cyndi, Grace, Robin
  • Farm to Table Veggie Sampling - During Lunches - Cafeteria - All
  • CST Meeting - 1:10 pm - Rm. 205 - Elise, Claudia, Robin, Jodie, Grace

Friday, April 16, 2015 - B Day - Formal Friday

  • School-wide Assembly - 7:45 am - Gym - First Grade Leads
  • Guidance - 8:00 am - Rm. 202 - Robin
  • 504 Meeting - 11:30 am - Office - Robin, Corinda, Kellie, Grace
  • General PTA Meeting - 5:15 pm - Cafeteria - All Invited!
  • Music Under the Stars! - 6:00-8:00 pm - Blacktop - All Invited!

For Your Information


  • If you need something, ask.
  • Arrive and pick up your class from special areas on time - respect each other's time.
  • Take attendance every day through TEAMS
  • Ensure 504, IEP, ELL, and Gifted Accommodations are being followed
  • Actively supervise your students - Spread out at recess to monitor each area.
  • Check our calendar for important events
  • Have fun!

Kudos: Do you know of something good? Share it with Grace to be included here or write it in the comments below!

  • To Vivien for implementing a new strategy learned at one of last week's Mini-U sessions!
  • To Alma for helping with TELPAS training!
  • To Alma and Sharon for supporting Suzie on Friday!
  • To Elise for organizing TELPAS!
  • To Cyndi for serving as a rater for more than her kids!
  • To Jud for attending GT meeting with Robin!
  • To Sicily for leading the way with GoNoodle!
  • To Corinda and Kellie for once again organizing their 6th graders to spread kindess throughout the school!

Upcoming Events:

  • Administrative Assistant Appreciation Week - April 20
  • 5th Grade Math STAAR - April 20
  • 3rd, 4th, and 6th Grades Math STAAR - April 21
  • 3rd, 4th, and 6th Grades Reading STAAR - April 22
  • 5th Grade Science STAAR - Arpil 22
  • Evening at the Opera - April 23
  • Track and Field Day - April 24
  • CAC Meeting - April 27
  • 2nd Grade Math EOY - April 28
  • 2nd Grade Reading EOY - April 29
  • Class List Staff Meeting - May 7

Website to Explore:

  • http://teacher.scholastic.com/poetry/ - Scholastic has put together a nice resource for teachers sharing poetry with their students. From an interactive poetry creator lessons and audio files of Jack Prelutsky reading poems and encouraging students to write to much more. Enjoy exploring!