In the Trenches

Thoughts and Ideas from a Classroom Teacher

BC11: A Favorite Website

2013-07-17 19.14.46One place I go to every day is Discovery Education! If you know me in person or online, you probably know that I am heavily involved with the Discovery Educator Network (DEN). Some of my most amazing personal and professional relationships come from experiences I have had thanks to the DEN. I figured that for this blog post I will do a Top 5 list of the reasons I love DE!

1. Advanced Search in Discovery Education allows me to find resources specifically targeted to my students’ needs. I love the games, math explanations, and songs. Even if your school does not subscribe to DE services, they have partnered with tons of community and corporate sponsors to create free lessons, games, and resources for teaching and learning.

2. Contests and sweepstakes like the Belk Service Learning Challenge and the Siemens Young Scientist Challenge give schools the opportunity to connect with corporate sponsors who want to make great things happen for young students. If you are a DEN STAR, you definitely look forward to Teacher Appreciation Week each year! DE does it right!

3. Face to face and virtual events offered by Discovery Education, the DEN, and their partners are amazing opportunities for educators and students to connect with the learning world around them. We have connected with the Weather Channel in an awesome Google HangOut, Peter Reynolds in an amazing Thinc Career Chat, and one another at events like DEN Summer Institute and DENapaloozas!

4. Discovery Education is about sharing! To become and maintain a DEN STAR, you have to do events. But, never fear, thi is not a giant production. No, sharing to DE is about getting 3-4 people together and talking about how you are using DE resources to improve teaching and learning in your classroom. Become a STAR!

5. Discovery Education is about providing the best teaching and learning resources. The DEN is about the people, the best network of caring, compassionate, and dedicated educators on Earth.

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Kenan Fellows Application Open Now!


As I look back at the three professional development experiences that we have had through our Kenan Fellowship, a few key ideas come to mind and they are best described with a plant metaphor. I am not a gardener, so I may not do the art of growing justice, but I will give it a shot.

Seeds: The PD institutes we have experienced haven’t been enough to fully grow a garden, but they have been able to plant seeds. Whether it was the use of Augmented Reality in the classroom developing as teacher-leaders, we were exposed to a variety of gardens to grow. There is no way to grow each of these types of seeds, but I think we have all found a specific seed or two that we are wanting to cultivate. For me, these include growing my use of social media in the classroom and developing as an advocate for change in education that is student-teacher-leader focused.

Roots: While there may not yet be tons above the surface, the professional development institutes we have shared have built strong roots for growth. The foundations of knowledge and experiences we have shared have been exceptional at meeting us “where we are” and allowing us to move forward from those points. As a PD leader myself, I’m often the “feeder” but miss out on the opportunity to “get fed.” Our sessions, many with people I have known for ages (like Paul and Jason), gave me the chance to just sit, learn, and grow.

Water: Considering my dip in the Nantahala, this reference is probably obvious

Time: At this point, I’m just looking forward to time. I need time to process, time to reflect, and time to forge a new path for leadership that fits my needs, desires, and personal mission.

Fruit: My Kenan Fellows experience is bearing fruit in ways that I hadn’t anticipated… new friendships, increased professional opportunities, engagement in my own teaching, and learning benefits for my students.


Applications for the Class of 2015 Kenan Fellows are open now. Please take the time to consider this opportunity. It is not for everyone. It’s time consuming. It’s demanding. It’s hard work. But, it’s also an exceptional opportunity for professional growth, networking, and fun! If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch!

photo credit: Jason A. Samfield via photopin cc

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New Facebook Template

I’ve done posts before about using Facebook templates for your students to create engaging and thought-provoking projects. Considering the focus in the Common Core State Standards on characterization, understanding point of view, and writing across genres, this really lends itself well to addressing these concepts. I just wanted to share this NEW Wonderful Free Facebook Template that I discovered this week!

Here are just a few ways that you could use Facebook templates in your teaching and learning…

– historical figures

fb template

– scientists

– biographies

– elements of the periodic table

– fictional characters

– states

– countries

– monuments

– national parks

– geometric figures

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Guess the Wordle

There are lots of great “Guess the Wordle” projects out there, and it is definitely one of my go-to activities. Jen Wagner is definitely an expert on GTW projects, and if you haven’t checked out her site, stop reading now and go there (just please come back).
Wordle, and other similar word cloud generators, are an awesome way to reinforce inferencing skills with your students of all ages. This set of activities was designed for a presentation I did for a science workshop, so these are “Guess the Scientist” Wordle’s. I’ll start with some examples…

Can you guess the scientist from the clues given in the word cloud? What are some of the key points that might give it away? GTW’s are something pretty quick and easy to do in a series and you can do them at home. I keep a file of them that I can pull out at any time with themes like Classic Fairy Tales, Guess the Day in History, Famous Inventors, etc. On a rainy day, or when I have just a few minutes, I can post one and students can try to guess. They also make excellent interactive bulletin boards.
So, how do you get started? Go to and click CREATE. Use the URL of a site you like or copy/paste text. That’s it! I do recommend that you go through your copy/paste and delete any key words that might give your Wordle away a little too easily. I found this site for short biographies of scientists that worked perfectly!

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Tech in Ten – NCSTA 12

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Are you looking for ways to introduce your students to basic and advanced science concepts? Do you have a one-computer classroom?

Check out these awesome science simulations on the PhET site in all science content areas from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I was looking for a way to show my students how the movement of molecules changes when heat is applied or reduced, and I found “States of Matter: Basic” simulation. It’s easy to find (I just searched “matter”) and easy to use, without having any exceptional technology requirements. For those of us with download restrictions on our school computers, I also appreciate that you can run them online. These activities could be great for classroom demos, student research or classroom flipping. How else do you see using them in your classroom?

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Integrating the Arts

At NCCTM today, I attended a session based on integrating the arts into the math classroom. I was so impressed with the presenting dance teacher’s express understanding of the math Common Core State Standards. She specifically designs lessons that help her students reinforce what they are learning and she used the phrase “visually, cognitively, and kinesthetically.” What if we approached every lesson this way?!

Here are some resources on integrated the arts into the regular classroom. Many of our students would benefit academically from our efforts to include elements like these in our teaching. I know we’d all have a lot more fun!


Music and Arts Integration Lessons – super easy, accessible and ready to go

Arts Edge – an exceptional, searchable resource from the Kennedy Center for the Arts

Math, Art, Fun – What more needs to be said?

Math in Art and Architecture

Links and Resources – from Education Closet



Animated Hero Classics

Do you love biographies? Do your students enjoy learning more about historical figures? Consider enhancing your teaching of historical people with the series from Animated Hero Classics. These great videos are about 30 minutes each and provide excellent information about people like the Wright Brothers, Madame Curie and William Bradford, just to name a few. The videos are available on Discovery Education and on YouTube.  Recently, I found teacher guides to accompany each of the videos/people with cross-curricular activities that relate to the person and build greater understanding of the person, the times surrouning his/her life and the contributions he/she made to society. You can find these great resources at Each guide is a downloadable pdf document that is around 50 pages of exceptional resources and ideas for instruction. If you were already using this great series, these documents are a definite bonus!

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Non-Fiction Graphic Organizers

Are you looking for ways to teach your students ways to tackle their comprehension of non-fiction texts? Check out this excellent resource from the Center for Urban Education. I love how the graphic organizers are simple to draw, so I don’t have to run copies ahead of time for my students. They are also broken up into different comprehension strategies and text structures, so I’m always going to be able to find one to meet my needs.

Obviously, these graphic organizers fit beautifully with non-fiction texts of all kinds and levels. But, have you thought about using them with videos or clips from Discovery Education? I love teaching the use of these organizers with video clips because we can focus specifically on the featured learning objective, like summarizing. My lower readers do really well with this activity because they can get a handle on the skill I am trying to teach before they are struggling with the texts, too. This way, they know what they are doing and what to look for, as well as how to think about it. Give it a try!


Science News for Kids

Are you looking for texts to use with your students that relate to your science curriculum? Do your students love seeing what’s going on in the world of science?

Check out Science News for Kids! There is a huge, easily searchable database of articles with beautiful pictures that relate to all areas of science. The articles have an upper elementary readability level, and would be great for non-fiction texts in guided reading groups or for small group study. They even pull out and define key vocabulary.

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