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Writing Rocks—June 2018 Calendar


posted: Fri, Apr 12th, 2019

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Outdoor lessons help students learn geometry 

Geometry can seem pretty abstract for elementary schoolers. Two-dimensional objects? A number that doesn’t end or repeat? And what’s this "rhombus" thing?

To show their students that geometry is everywhere we turn, fourth grade teachers Wendy Schneider and Dee Stauffer took their students on a field trip to the school playground. Working in pairs or small groups, the students were asked to find types of angles (acute, obtuse, and right) and types of lines (intersecting and parallel) in the playground equipment. The monkey bars, for example, have parallel and intersecting lines; the “A” frame of the swings have acute angles and the swings themselves can make any angle at all (making right or obtuse angles while swinging is not recommended).

In addition to the geometry scavenger hunt, the fourth-graders used chalk to draw lines and angles on the sidewalk, and bent and twisted to made angles and lines with their bodies.

Recently the teachers began guided math lessons that have students working together at stations and moving from activity to activity. The playground excursion was another way to get kids doing instead of just sitting at their desks. And research shows that kinesthetic learning that uses the whole body such as the angle-making exercises helps students learn and remember. 

“It’s so important to get students up and moving and learning,” said Ms. Schneider. “And working and learning from each other, too. They loved being outside and finding math in objects they see every day.”

Learning about angles and lines was a prelude to more complex geometry that is to come such as calculating the areas and perimeters of shapes.

Layan Alabssi intently reads an article on Achieve3000

Personalized learning through technology

The lesson to start off this particular morning was low on pizzazz. There were no robots or craft projects, no wild animals from a refuge or flashy hands-on science experiments. Kids literally sat at their desks, read an online article, and answered questions on laptops. That’s it. But when something as “nuts and bolts” as this is presented by a veteran educator with a mastery of her craft, it can be engaging and meaningful on a much deeper level. Who needs robots?

Kathy Diefes’ recent lesson guided students through an assignment in Achieve3000, a web-based learning platform that is being piloted this year in the third grade for English language arts. Achieve is being used to bolster reading levels, and improve comprehension and analysis of nonfiction articles. The platform monitors and tracks individual student progress with precision, presenting articles to each student that exactly matches his or her own Lexile level. When a student’s Lexile level increases, so does the complexity of the next text to be read. Pretty cool. 

“Nonfiction is heavy on state tests and so very important for all future learning,” Mrs Diefes said. “Finding and citing textual evidence is something all students could use practice with.”

Anatomy of a lesson

“Counting on Safer Sports,” the article that Mrs. Diefes had keenly chosen for this morning, integrated information that students recently learned or were now exploring. A few days before, the kids had read in their ELA textbooks an article about technology in sports and the work of engineers in making athletic gear, and were currently studying the forces of nature (a major unit of study in the third-grade science curriculum). 

The selection of “Counting on Safer Sports” instead of some random article had several benefits. It allowed students to make a meaningful connection to the material since they already had a base of knowledge about sports injuries, it heightened interest, and it provided a real-life look at the ways that physical forces affect the human body. 

The lesson began with a discussion of the problem/solution story structure that is commonly found in nonfiction. The kids analyzed a short paragraph projected on the classroom whiteboard and identified “signal” words and phrases that indicated that the text employed the problem/solution structure. 

Next, Mrs. Diefes engaged the third-graders with questions that drew on their knowledge of concussions from their previous reading. “What are the symptoms of concussions?” “Why are they caused?” The answers to the latter led to the bridge to science.

The former Tinc Road Teacher of the Year brought it all together; the transitions were neat and perfectly packaged. The kids were excited and enthused to show off what they knew. They couldn’t wait to open their laptops and learn more. With so many active students in the class who play sports formally or informally, this was a topic that was personally important to them, too. 

Each student has a unique login to the Achieve portal. Once online, the “Counting on Safer Sports” article automatically popped up. First, the class looked at the text’s vocabulary words to the right of the article. What do we know? What do we don’t know? The students have notebooks with a list of keywords they would like to remember, and they took a moment to add two of the vocabulary words to their lists. 

A poll question was next, automatically provided by Achieve: There is no way that contact sports can be made safe for kids? Agree or disagree, and provide a one-sentence rationale.

Finally, it was on to reading. The students silently read the first paragraph, then the class discussed the signal words that could help identify the text’s problem/solution format. On screen in the space after the first paragraph, the students typed right into the application the two details they thought were important.

This type of analysis and summarization continued throughout the remainder of the reading. Of course, students can complete the reading without the intermittent class discourse; however, this time around Mrs. Diefes wanted to stress story structure and signal words. 

In Achieve, a student’s reading level increases after four scores of 75% or higher on the post-reading quizzes. That simple.

“Students really take their scores to heart,” Mrs. Diefes said. “They ask themselves ‘Why didn’t I do that well’ and that really helps them as learners to identify their strengths and weaknesses. They want to improve, they want to do better, it’s a source of personal pride for them.”

Achieve can be used in so many ways and Mount Olive teachers are just scratching the surface. Students can select their own articles if they’d like, for example. Some texts have built in videos to augment the provided information. With an extensive bank of articles that is updated regularly, Achieve never grows old or boring.

Third grade is considered a milestone year for reading. Research shows that students who read at or above grade level in Gr. 3 are much more successful in high school than those who are below. 

Teachers on the Future Ready committee get ready to discuss the planning process

Preparing for the future

Tinc Road is preparing for the future of teaching and learning.

A schoolwide action plan is being developed that defines the technology, supports, and resources necessary to personalize instruction and meet each student’s unique learning needs. 

The school is aligning its planning and teaching practices with the framework of Future Ready Schools, an organization dedicated to using technology as a tool to engage students and improve learning.

Among Future Ready’s key principles are the importance of:

  • using assessment data to drive educational decisions for the school and for individual students

  • active learning that involves technology and “real-world” problem-solving

  • school cultures dedicated to collaboration and innovation 

A team comprised of teachers, Principal Scott Lipson, and Instructional Supervisor Brian Allen is working on completing the preparation and Future Ready documentation by the end of the school year. A district committee and committees in all other MO schools are following similar processes.

“Future Ready is unifying all staff members to achieve the instructional goals for the 21st century,” said teacher Megan Manley, chair of Tinc Road’s Future Ready committee. “It’s been an opportunity for all of us to self-assess and identify the areas where we are currently doing well, in addition to the areas where we can grow. It’s encouraging schoolwide collaboration, personal reflection, and experimentation with new programs. I’m very excited about where this will lead us.”

Future Ready Schools provides a wealth of research and best practices that can help a school or school district leverage instructional technology to improve student achievement. Through its framework, the organization stresses:

  • the integration of digital learning throughout the curriculum

  • a fast and secure data network that maintains privacy

  • professional development that includes lessons and procedures involving computer hardware and instructional applications

“It’s been incredible to see how our teachers and the entire district have embraced this Future Ready initiative,” said Mr. Lipson. “Our teachers are reflecting on their craft and working together to implement engaging strategies to guide their students towards success. It's an exciting time to be part of Mount Olive.”

If Tinc Road successfully completes the planning, the school will receive certification from the state’s Future Ready chapter which is sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey School Boards Association, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. 

Dr. Rob Zywicki, Mount Olive superintendent, sits on the national advisory team of Future Ready Schools.

The Tinc Road Future Ready Committee

Brian Allen

Lisa Barba

Sharon Beaulieu

Samantha Darnesto

Sharon Enea

Scott Lipson

Megan Manley

Dena Moschello

Suzanne Murphy

Laura Offerding

Alyssa Puleo

Brittany VanHouten

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24 Tinc Road Flanders, NJ 07836
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