Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Brain Breaks

In my classroom we use brain breaks often. We usually like to use types that give our body's a break. The cross body movements have proven to be most effective for my growing 5th grade students. GoNoodle is an excellent website we have encountered in our classroom. This gives us not only movement brain breaks, but also mindful mental focus strategies that we integrate into our days as well. It is SO important for my students to participate in movement exercises throughout out day and then finish with a mindful breathing exercise to calm them down to a place where they are ready to learn. We also integrate movement into instruction as well as our transitions. I like to use the "whole brain" teaching model for students to stay alert and aware during lessons. I also feel that well-timed transitions can make a world of difference in our learning stamina.

I use brain breaks to give students a moment to relax and release energy that has been built up inside of their small body's. I feel these are necessary in achieving learning stamina and motivation.

I feel that brain breaks are completely effective and positive. Whether they are integrated into transitions, lessons, or completely unrelated to classroom content, brain breaks are SO necessary in achieving stamina throughout our day.

Our classroom environment has been hugely impacted by the use of brain breaks. It is SO important for my students to exert their energy in a controlled/appropriate way while around others and in school, and I feel this is a way for students to do so. This largely impacts our classroom environment because I find myself putting out fewer fires and I have more time to focus on the positive actions my students are making!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

AR Reflection

The biggest surprise about my action research was the findings I discovered through my implementation plan. My action research focused on the concepts of differentiation and student engagement. The strategies I implemented based off of my research was the continuation of my flipped math classroom, but also adding the component of guided math centers throughout our face-to-face classroom time. At the beginning of the process I was “looking” for students’ achievement to magically rise as a result to the changes that I made to my classroom, however, that is not what I observed. Rather, I noticed the level of engagement throughout my math classroom increased. I feel that my students were interested about math and demonstrated a growth mindset. This was the largest surprise of my action research project.
One thing which concerns me about my action research is the component of time. I am concerned that I still need more time in my math block in order to achieve the EXACT environment I believe we are capable of. Another concern of mine is the length of my flip videos. I feel that now that I have created all of the video lessons/found them, it is important for me to return back and shave off some time. I feel that some of the content videos are too long for students. They tend to lose focus when the videos exceed 9 minutes.
One thing I have learned about myself in this process is that I have the type of personality to make things work. If I believe in a strategy, I will do whatever it takes in order for that strategy implemented to succeed. I feel that throughout this process, I have overcome several technology, management, planning obstacles. However, because I believed in the vision of my math classroom, my students and I were able to overcome these obstacles and create an effective use of the strategy.
Three words that describe my action research experience include: Engagement, Excitement, and Endless.
I chose the word engagement because throughout this process I was really able to identify what
student engagement looks and feels like. I feel that with the research I found, I was able to implement them into my classroom in order to create and engaging classroom environment.
I chose the word excitement because throughout this process, both my students and myself were excited about the format of our math classroom. Students were eager to finish their work and begin researching/exploring information for their projects.
Finally, I chose the word endless because I found that with the current model in my classroom the strategies we can implement, the projects we can engage in, the content we can cover, and the opportunities we have are ENDLESS!

Friday, February 20, 2015


  1. Identify some aspect of your professional life where you would like to be more open?  An aspect of your personal life?
 In my professional life, I would like to be more open to listening, implementing, and hearing other people's thoughts and ideas in regard to academic strategies. I feel that I can only increase my tool belt of strategies i could use to implement into my classroom! 

I feel that in my personal life, I would like to try to become more open to my boyfriend's ideas. I feel that he thinks logically about a lot of things in his life and if I were open to them, I would benefit from it.

  1. The author’s mention the difficulty inherent in “speaking your truth” – especially when it is not popular.  Describe a time when you “spoke the truth” and the result of such an action.
The author mentions the difficulty in "speaking your truth" especially when it is not popular. This reminds me of a time when I had to "speak the truth" in a staff meeting. This was difficult because the truth differed from the thoughts/ideas of the majority of people in the meeting. While my heart was beating quickly, I knew in my heart that what I was saying was the truth. By me opening up and speaking the truth served as a model to others. People listened to my ideas, and together, we collaborated and found many connections we were not aware could have taken place.  

  1. Is the school system in which you currently work a more open or a more closed system?  What indicators do you see, hear, feel that lead you to your assessment?  How does the school in which you work affect your own place on the “continuum of openness”?  In what ways do you promote openness in your classroom?
 I feel that the school in which I work in is split between people being open and closed. I feel that my school has components of openness because, for the most part, people are interested in getting to know me and information about my personal life. I feel that some people are also interested in new ideas and are open to differing strategies. While people are interested in trying new ideas, there are still some people who, like the article mentioned, are boxed into their own ideas and thinking. Some are not "open" to trying new things and experiencing the large amount of connections and potential positive changes. I feel that if our school could share a vision of openness, willingness to integrate researched based practices into their instruction.

  1. When/how has life pushed you lately to have a more open heart?  More open mind?  What fears hinder your ability to risk being more open?  How do you move through this?
 In my relationship I have been challenged to have more of an open mind to how we, together, make decisions. I feel it has treated me well because I have learned more from this experience than I ever have. 
In n my professional life I have become more open to listening to my students' ideas as well as peers in my learning community. I have been challenged to practice the skill of active listening and acknowledging others' ideas. These ideas have sparked meaningful conversation and strong ideas.

  1. As you think about this chapter on openness and its relationship to leadership, what is the most important thing for you to remember?
I feel the quote that stuck withe me the most is "by not allowing things in, you close yourself off from all sorts of potential connections and magic." I feel that I need to trust in others, be open to new ideas, and interested in differing views. This will allow my life's journey to be exciting, purposeful, and fulfilling.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

5th Grade Student Learning Principals

I teach 5th Grade in Annandale, MN. My students come into my classroom with a few of their own principles for learning, but I try to instill a few more organizational tools/learning strategies to help them through their 5th grade year. I will walk you through the various principles of learning I have set in place for students by the following categories: attitude, organization, communication, study skills, and homework completion.

Attitude: At the start of each school year I try to find picture books and activities that promote a community and growth mindset. The picture books that help me to best illustrate my hopes for students are The Beautiful Oops, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat., and the chapter book, The Energy Bus.  The Beautiful Oops relays a message to students that mistakes truly are beautiful if we can find the silver lining in them and learn from them to make use better people. This theme sticks with my class throughout the year. Joseph Had a Little Overcoat presents the idea that “you can always make something out of nothing”. As a class we discuss that even we have bad days, or are bored, or don't’ feel we can get much out of our learning, if use look/think hard enough, we can ALWAYS find something positive. This leads us into the Energy Bus, I like to use this book as a way to teach students that if we focus our thoughts on positive things, that our energy will shift to become more positive. Energy is contagious and leads to a positive classroom culture.

Organization: Students are instructed to use “take home” folders in the form of expandable “fan” looking folders. These folders can easily be found in the dollar section at Target and are helpful because the sections they have allow for quick organization. I have my students label the sections of their folders by the following labels: Forms, Math, Communication, and Extra. The forms section is for all take home forms that need to be signed/given to parents. The math section holds math study links/notes take from math flip videos. The communication section holds student's lit. circle packets, lit. circle books, and their weekly vocabulary lists. The extra section holds any homework that can STAY home, or EXTRA other work.
Students use complete their assignment sheet immediately as they walk in from lunch/recess. The homework board is completed and students work to fill in necessary assignments for the day.
Our classroom is also a very organized place. In our classroom everything has a “home”. At the end of the day, students check into their jobs and complete the task assigned to them in order to help clean up our learning spaces.

Communication: I strive to have open communication with my students, parents, and staff members. One way I promote this communication is through our assignment sheet. Another way I communicate with students is through a one-way class messaging system called, Classroom Messenger. This messaging service allows me to send messages to both students and parents about nightly homework/reminders/upcoming events. Parents have access to respond to this message in the form of an email. I feel that this is an excellent tool for communication. Students also engage in an interactive Twitter account through our class. Many of our students follow us on Twitter as well as parents. This promotes a positive use of social media for educational uses.
If a student is absent for any reason at all, upon their arrival back at school they are to complete a “we missed you form” and place it on my desk. This allows me to gather materials necessary for make-up work and return to that student in a timely matter.

Study Skills: In our classroom study skills is a HUGE learning process. In my math class, we participate in a flipped classroom experience. Students watch video lessons at home each night. They are also encouraged to take notes on each video in their math notebooks. These lessons act as a pre-teaching tool for students. Our class time is spent in guided centers investigating concepts previously introduced in video lessons. Students’ work completed during classroom time is collect, checked, and returned to them to use as a resource throughout the chapter and for the test. Before the test, students can earn extra “classroom points” for re-watching videos as a way to study. For the test, students must have all of their unit’s notes from the flip videos, chapter work, and any other resources provided for the test. I feel that this structure models positive study skills.
If a student does not perform to their standards on a test and want to re-take the test, they are required to complete a “request to retest” form. This form collects information like the first test, and a reason for their performance on that test. Next, they need to complete and provide evidence of work they completed in order to understand the math concepts better. This tells me that students have put in the work and deserve to try the test a second time.
Homework Completion: As previously stated, homework completion in my classroom looks different than other classrooms. Because students’ homework is to watch video lessons in math, I am able to directly track information in regard to how long students spent on the site and how they score of various formative quizzes. When checking homework, if students complete their work, they earn a “class point” while if they do not, they lose a point. While we have homework in other classes, math is the only DAILY work that needs to be completed in addition to reading minutes at home.

These are a few of the principals I have set in place to help students become more independent and resourceful learners.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Connections & Relationships between education articles and my CUP on Levers.

As I read the article titled, Teaching Between Desks, I came up with several parallels to my current backwards design unit involving levers. As mentioned in the article, Kikan-shido', which means between-desks instruction. Essentially this means that the classroom teacher is moving around the classroom monitoring independent or small group practice. I feel that my backwards design unit involving levers lends itself very well to idea of Kikan-shido'. Throughout lessons, I begin by modeling the designed outcome of the lab. After that, students are to collect their lab groups materials from organized bins, find their lab station, and collaboratively work to complete investigations. In this particular unit, students will be working on exploring and gaining an understanding for the benefits and concepts related to levers and simple machines. These groups have materials that allow for hands-on exposure and first-hand experiences related to science concepts around simple machines. I feel that this structure allows me to meander around the room conferencing and questioning each group. I try to make note that when a group does a nice job, to gather the whole class around their station to see the work that group has completed. This allows me to address any confusion, but also challenge thinking through higher level questions. After the exploration, students are encouraged to try and answer essential questions related to the unit. Through discussion at the end of the class period, we address positives, negatives, and the essential questions related to our unit. I feel that this classroom structure follows several of the concepts mentioned in Kikan-shido'.

Throughout the article, The Science of Successful, the part the stuck with me the most was when the author stated, "the retreival practice helps keep information at our mental fingertips." I found this to connect largely to metacognition. When students have to re-think the steps to a problem, re-read, or refer back to text for more information is when deep learning takes place. In my backwards design unit I found two examples of retrieval practice. First, at the beginning of the unit, I gave students a list of 7 essential questions. These 7 questions are to be answered, in depth, by the end of the unit. Throughout the units' labs, experiments, discussions, and readings, students will be encouraged to "retrieve" reflect upon these 7 questions. I feel this allows for deeper thinking because it requires students to be intentional throughout each lesson to see if they are able to answer any of the 7 questions. My second example of "retrieval practice" is through the completion of lab reports. Lab reports require students to use metacognition in order to complete successfully. Students are to reflect back upon the lab, to jot down the procedure as well as analyze data to ultimately draw conclusions.

I completely agree with the article titled, Learning Targets. In this article the author described that students learn best when they have clear, set goals and learning targets. In my experiences, the lessons that I have designed clear learning targets for are the most successful. As I mentioned earlier, in this backwards design unit involving levers, students are given 7 questions that they need to answer by the end of the unit. These are 7 learning targets that they need to be able to answer and discuss in class. Now, one may think that 7 learning targets is TOO many. Let me provide some background. I past units, students have had about 7-10 learning targets/unit. However, they were broken up and provided for each lesson. This unit, I wanted to give more responsibility to my students. So, I gave them the essential questions at the beginning of the unit and described to them that it was THEIR job to reflect upon when they feel they have enough knowledge/practice/experience to answer the questions.

Overall, as I read these articles, I was surprised to see how much of my practices already aligned with educational suggestions. Although there are ALWAYS things I can improve upon, it was refreshing to read articles that aligned with my philosophy of education.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Summary of Growth Statement

From the start of my teaching career until now, 3 years later, my foundational principles of teaching practice have remained fairly consistent , however, my visions and mission have been modified. I used to be a strong believer in repetition and lots of practice. While I still believe that practice is important, I feel that more authentic practice is effective rather than surface level repetition like worksheets and skills tests. I feel that this modification in my principle of practice has expanded across the school day. In reader's workshop, I strive to create and encourage authentic response and assessment though graphic organizers. In math, I have started to integrate the project based learning model into my classroom. This allows students to experience, apply, and practice all at once the concepts from our math lessons.

I feel that in my principals of practice the aspects of AGAPE and the Lasallian Virtues play a large role.Prudence: Level-headed, of sound judgment, sensible, reasonable; a steadying quality in any circumstance has played a role in authentic practice and assessment. I feel that authentic work falls under the virtue of prudence. Authentic assessment is reasonable, level-headed, and steadying in quality. I feel this allows for growth and encourages quality work.

I also see the virtue of Gentleness is present in my practices as well. Gentleness:  Meek, respectful, refined, amiable, kindly, and with good manners, qualities described in De La Salle’s work “Politeness”. Respectful. In all that I do I try to be in the “top 20” and continue to be respectful with my students, athletes, co-workers, and family. I feel that my parents embodied respect for others which is why I feel that I come by this characteristic more naturally. I also feel I demonstrate good manners when asking others for favors, opinions, etc. My students sense this and I feel can pick up upon both the level of respect and manners.

I feel that the concepts of have taught me to identify the "bones" of problems in my classroom. When looking at my action research, my problem in my classroom was that I could not meet the needs of all of my students in math. The rather than researching strategies for teaching math, I soon realized that the overarching concept was differentiation. I feel that having an understanding of concepts has helped me to research effectively and identify areas that can improve in my classroom I also feel that concepts have allowed me to use strong scaffolding questions to promote deep, authentic learning.

I feel that the understanding of concepts has allowed me to make sense of my learners and guide my instruction. I feel that through research and reflection, I have re-trained myself to think about the "why" more. Why were my students successful in that lesson? Why did they loose focus? Why did they not understand? With the understanding of the "why" I am able to inform my instruction to better meet the needs of my students.

I feel like the strategies I have using require a high level of trust between my students and myself. It is important that before I implement these strategies that I develop a strong community of learners. At this point we are well into the year and have developed a foundation for a strong community and I am able to implement new learning strategies (flipped classroom, self-paced learning, project-based learning) that require a high level of independence and in-turn, trust. These strategies have also allowed our relationship as a community of learners to strengthen and move to the next level.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

14 Day Challenge

For my 14 day challenge I decided that, as simple as it seems, to be in my hallway in the mornings when students enter the hallway. I feel like often times mornings as a teacher are so hectic with phone calls, last minute lesson plans, and other preparations for the day. This lead me to my challenge, greeting students in the hallway as they enter. My reasoning for this challenge was to start our day by providing a positive presence to students.

I'll have to admit, the first few days of this challenge were difficult. I felt tempted to stay at my desk and finish up ONE last thing. However, at the beginning of my challenge, I voiced my goal to students. THEY held me accountable by reminding me "Miss Knutson, you need to work toward your goal!"

As time went on, this became a part of my everyday routine. I noticed the excitement that students had in the morning. It also allowed me to gauge where my students were at emotionally. I was able to check-in with students if I noticed they were down or even excited.

Overall, I thought this 14 challenge was a great experience that allowed me to "polish" my teaching. I look forward to starting another 14 day challenge.