Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Thank You, North Platte Public Schools Foundation

HAL would like to thank the North Platte Public School Foundation for funding our "HAL-lo to BrainPOP" project." We are extremely proud to be have been one of the eight REACH grant recipients. Because of the foundation's generosity, teachers and students now have access to the educational website BrainPOP and BrainPOP Jr.

Hosted by an expressive orange robot named Moby and his teen companion Tim, BrainPOP movies cover everything from the Underground Railroad to the atomic model to Shakespeare. Interactive quizzes for assessment and enrichment materials like experiments and creative activities supplement the movies. Topics – aligned with state and national education standards and searchable by state standards – are grouped within the subjects of Science, Math, English, Social Studies, Health, Technology and Arts and Music.
HAL students will be able to access this site for enrichment activities. Teachers will be able to use BrainPOP to enhance and differentiate lessons.
I went to a school yesterday and modeled some BrainPOP lessons. In one fifth grade classroom, students were encouraged to think about what they already knew about Winter Holidays. Next, they wrote some words and phrases in a wiki. After watching the BrainPOP movie, they went back to their wiki and added things they learned. Although we had computer gliches, they students did a fantastic job.
For the second group of fifth graders, I asked them create acrostic poems instead of wikis. Students watched a BrainPOP segment with a partner, then met with two other people to process what they had seen. The final products were excellent.
BrainPOP is such a wonderful educational resource! I know once people try it, they will be hooked! Thanks again North Platte Public School Foundation for providing teachers and students with such a cool tool!

Minneapolis from A to Z (Almost)

I recently attended the NAGC conference in Minneapolis. There were 3, 500 people from the US and other parts of the world. It was a busy, informative, and inspirational four days. One of the most exciting things was being able to listen to the leading experts in the field of gifted education including Joseph Renzulli, Carol Ann Tomlinson, and Dr. Robert Sternberg. As you can imagine, my brain is full of new information and ideas. I decided to organize my ideas into an ABC list, but I came up a little short. Anyway, here are some highlights, reflections, and ideas from Minneapolis.

A Affective Issues: All children face affective and developmental challenges, but gifted children also face issues that many of their peers will not. In her presentation, Staff Development to meet the Social/Emotional Needs of the Gifted, Sherry Earle named a "Bakers Dozen" of affective issues including perfectionism, dyssynchronous development, ownership of the gift, over-excitability, social isolation, multipotentiality, underachievement, acceleration, miscommunication, lack of organizational skills, chameleon, misdiagnosis, and distorted self-concept. Dr. Earle recommended that gifted children participate in discussion groups facillitated by a counselor. One of our HAL goals this year to is to provide students with this service, and I appreciate the work of the NPPS administrators to recognize this and include it in the HAL plan.
B Begin with the Brain: I was walking through the exhibit hall and noticed a book called Teachers, Change Your Bait! What a great title! Upon closer inspection, I learned that this book was Martha Kaufeldt's latest release. Kaufeldt is known for her expertise in the field of brain-compatible learning, differentiated instruction, and integrated curriculum (my passion). I didn't purchase the book, (Do any of you out there have it?) but I did write down her website: http://www.beginwiththebrain.com/. When I got on the site I found lots of resources, including books, multimedia, downloads, and classroom tools, including the beautiful and amazing singing bowls. I love the brain pins, hats, and bumper stickers! Be sure to use the free downloads for lesson ideas.

C Cindy Strickland: You can always tell the effectiveness of a presenter by how many notes you take during a session. During Cindy's workshop, I was writing like crazy. Of course, in the middle, she mentions that her entire session and more can be found at www.base.google.com/base/a/cindy.strickland. There is tons of information here, and I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about tiered instruction, anchor activitites, or differentiated learning to visit.

D Digital Natives: By now you've probably all have heard the term "digital natives." If you haven't, it is a reference to children who have never known life without computers and probably have no idea what a rotary phone or record is. Digital natives have unique learning styles and are more motivated to learn when using technolgy. Did you know that digital natives think graphically, and their eyes actually track differently? I also found out that DN are typically drawn to red, neon green, and burnt orange, and they tend to ignore black and white. Who knew? Stock up now before word gets out...

E EPALS: One of my goals this year is to find a way for HAL students and Score Big With Books teams to communicate with each other online. Internet safety is always a barrier to making this dream a reality. I was looking into Gaggle, but there is a cost involved if you want an ad free site. Imagine my delight when I heard about ePals and learned that ePals is now free. I'll have to research it further and check with the tech department, but I'm excited about the possibilities. Under careful parameters, students can email and blog with each other or maybe even with students across the world.

F FOLDABLES: As a classroom teacher, I often had students ask me, "Hamburger or Hot Dog?" No, they weren't serving lunch, they were asking me which way to fold their papers. For those of you who don't know, a hamburger fold makes short pages and a hot dog fold makes long pages. In fourth grade, we folded papers for a variety of activities. I learned at this conference, however, that what I did was just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, there are hundreds of things students can create by folding. Foldables connect with the body smart intelligence, and they can also be used as alternate assessment tools to evaluate student progress. I purchased the Big Book of Science by Dinah Zike, but the ideas can be used in any subject area. I'm more than happy to share, so just let me know if you want to look at it.

G Google Earth: Being somewhat of a cybergeek, I was aware of the application Google Earth, but hadn't really thought about how I might use it with HAL students. One great idea was to have students explore places where meteors have hit the Earth, then create a chart of craters per continent. www.gearthblog.com/kmfiles/impacts.kmz Another fantastic project is to tour the 19 landmarks mentioned in Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days then have students annotate the 19 places they would stop if they were traveling around the world. I'll need to learn much more before I dive in, but I can't wait to try this. I believe Google Sky was just released, too, so this provides even more exploration.

H Hoagies Gifted Education Page This site http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/ offers a wealth of resources. The Kids page has a gazillion links in every subject. There is something for every student, so get some coffee, get a comfortable chair, and do some serious surfing!

I igoogle: Because there were so many great sessions, it would difficult to name my favorite, but if I had to, I would pick "The Glories of Google." I think my mouth hung open the entire time. I had no idea the things google could do! I really don't know how I lived without igoogle. To have everything in one place is fabulous. Using idocs, I can have all my documents together and have them accessible anywhere. Now I don't have to worry about which flash drive my project is on, or if something is on my computer at home that I need at school. There are really too many other features to describe here, but I was thinking that maybe its possible to use Google for electronic portfolios. HAL students could create an igoogle page and upload their word documents. For the presenters Top 10 Google Things, visit http://gloriesof.googlepages.com/.
L Lots of Circles Wholemovement is a new approach to understanding geometry by making 3-D shapes out of circles. It's a little (ok, a lot) beyond me, but you math people out there might like to find out more. Here's the address http://www.wholemovement.com/.

M MENUS: At the Prufrock Press booth, I spied a series of books called Differentiating Instruction With Menus by Laurie E. Westphal. There was math, language arts, science, and social studies, but I picked up the math because I'm currently working with a teacher to provide extended learning opportunities for a third grade student. I liked it so much that I tried to go back and get the others, but they were already sold out!! I love menus because they provide the 2 c's important for high abiltiy learners-- choice and challenge.

N Nebraska: The University of Nebraska had a booth (I got a pen since I was from North Platte) and was promoting their UNL Independent High School program. They offer many courses for students who desire to accelerate learning through high school, AP, or college independent study courses. For more information go to http://www.nebraskahs.unl.edu/.

Online library: I wanted to mention that I can order the entire NAGC conference online or on CD-ROM. It costs $149, and features all of the 2007 sessions. Let me know if this is something you would like. The subscription includes three free co-users.

P Pre-Assessment: For quite a while now, we've focused on three questions: 1. What do we want students to know (standards) 2. How will will determine if they know it? (Assessment) and 3. What will we do if they don't know it? (interventions) One presenter suggested that we have been leaving out another important question... 4 What will we do if they already know it? (compacting/acceleration) Talk about an "aha" momement! As adults, do we usually watch tv shows we've already seen? Once we pass the drivers test, do we still study the drivers book? Isn't it torture to sit through a workshop when nothing new is presented? There are many students, HAL identified or not, that already know the skills. As educators we have to be aware of this, and we always have to ask, "What will I do if they already know this?" This is easier said than done, because it requires creating and administering a pre-assessment, and as a teacher, I know how hard it is to find time for everything. Still, I think we owe it to our more able students to provide opportunities for them to learn something new everyday, and the only way to ensure this is by finding out what they already know and can do.

Q Quiddler: Using special cards, Quiddler draws on one's ability to combine letters into words. Players must combine their entire hand into words trying to use the highest point value letters. Quiddler challenges you to do this first with three cards (round one), then with four, on up to ten cards in the last round. A bonus is given for both the longest word, and the most words made by a player in each round. The average game takes 20-40 minutes. A cool thing about Quiddler is that there is a school competition. It is open to grades K-12, and if your class gets within 10 points of the highest score once a week for 25 weeks, your schools wins a Set site lisense. Go to http://www.quiddler.com/ for more information.

R Responding Online: I mentioned epals earlier, and I wanted to list some other student response activities. In English, teachers could give the students a story starter and have students continue the story online, with each student adding to the previous post. In math, students could respond to the number 10 by writing as many things as they can about that number. For example, one student could write "It is 2x5," and another student could add, "The number of digits in a telephone number. In science, students could respond and discuss which activities would be easier on the moon than on earth.

S SET Another thing I love about conferences is hearing about cool things from other teachers. As I was eating lunch, I struck up a conversation with a teacher, and she asked me if I had ever used SET. She told me that she used this game for visual perception and visual thinking skills. Of course, I had never heard of it, but I promised her I would go check it out. In the exhibit hall, I found the booth. I learned that SET is an award winning visual perception puzzle game that can be used with the whole class or groups. It took awhile, but I finally got the hang of it. I can't wait to try it with students and with my own kids at home. For more information about SET go tohttp://www.setgame.com/.

T Tennesee: Ever heard of Murfreesboro, Tennessee? This town is the home of the Discovery School at Reeves Rogers. They are an Apple 1:1 school, and principal Patsy Davis and teacher Kristy Mall gave a awesome presentation about how technology is utilized in the school. They shared several websites like giftedsources, coolmath, rainforestweb, nasa.gov, gamequarium, and national geographic. A free, professional development site that helps teachers answer questions about the use of technology in teaching and learning can be found at www.eduscapes.com/tap. Students can design and ride their own rollercoaster at http://virtual.questacon.edu.au/rollercoaster, and at http://www.edheads.org/ students can perform virtual knee surgery.

U University Enrichment Programs: I learned that several universities offer Saturday and Summer Enrichment Programs. Unfortunately, most are far, far away from us. However, if you are interested, Emory University, University of Michigan, Princeton University, University of Texas at Austin, UCLA, and UC Berkley all offer Summer Institutes.

V Voices Before the keynote on Thursday evening, this group of very talented boys performed for us. They have won numberous awards, and it was easy to see why. The best part was when they came down into the audience, singing in Latin or Spanish or whatever language it was. I had an aisle seat so many of them stopped right in front of me. I was in total awe. If you would like to hear them or purchase a CD, go to http://www.lolcb.org/.

W WORDIGO: Wordigo is a unique crossword game in which students form words with tiles. There is also an online verson. The twist is there is a time limit, and many students can play at once. I didn't buy this one, so if you're interested go to http://www.wordigo.com/

X: X-celleration (aka acceleration) Something that our HAL committee will need to address is an acceleration policy. As far as I know we don't have one, and as our program moves forward, this may be an option for some of our students. Some things we'll have to adress are early admittance to school, subject specific acceleration, and grade skipping.

Y Youth Education Series: Remember the Disney song When You Wish Upon A Star? Well, if I had a wish, it would be to take our students to the Disney Youth Education Series. YES http://www.disneyyes.com/ is an opportunity for students to explore a wide variety of concepts and issues designed to enlighten, inspire and thrill. Many programs are designed to meet national standards, and all programs take students inside or behind the scenes of Walt Disney World® Resort to share the magic of learning.

N.L.Sharp Visits Jefferson

N.L. Sharp, author of Today I’m Going Fishing With My Dad, The Ring Bear, and Effie’s Image, visited students at Jefferson Elementary and Jefferson Kids Klub on November 16.
Sharp told students that there are four places to get ideas for writing: Memories, Books, Pictures, and Spying.

Sharp used her memories of a fishing trip to write Today I’m going Fishing With My Dad. She encouraged students to think about something they hated to do, and write about it, just as she did. She mentioned that books are another place to get ideas. The book Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder inspired Sharp to begin writing. She told students to read as much as they can, and use books as springboards for their own stories.

Students also learned that pictures can help them with the writing process. Sharp showed them her own visual journal. The journal contained personal photographs and magazine clippings. She told the children that when she has writer’s block, she uses the pictures to help her brainstorm ideas. Sharp told the students that they can also get ideas for stories by “spying.” The idea for the book, The Ring Bear, was conceived when she overheard a conversation at a baseball game about a boy who thought he was going to be a ring “bear” in a wedding. She promised the students that by keeping their eyes and ears open, they would be able to “spy” a story, too.

In addition to her writing tips, Sharp shared memories about growing up in Nebraska. She was born in Valentine and went to school in a one room schoolhouse. “I was the smartest one in my class,” she joked after telling students she was always the only one in her grade. She reminisced about riding a horse to school, reading books, and listening to stories. It was in third grade that she came up with her pen name, N.L. Sharp. Today she is also known as Nancy Wagner. She lives in Fremont, Nebraska, and she works as a children’s author and educational writing consultant. For more information, go to

To date, Mrs. Wagner, has published three books, and she is currently working on her first chapter book. Effie’s Image, her latest work, is a Learning Magazine’s 2006 Teachers’ Choice Award Winner. It is also a K-3 Nebraska Golden Sower nominee for the 2007-2008 school year.

A big thank you to Jefferson Elementary and K.I.D.S. Klub for partnering with HAL for this event!

Hal-lo! This is my first post as HAL Director. HAL stands for High Ability Learner and my job is to promote awareness and provide services for these kinds of students. The goals for the first year are identification, parent and community involvement, student programming, professional development, and social/emotional support.

It's not easy starting a program from scratch, but so far I have enjoyed the challenge! One of the first things I was asked to do was to present an overview of the program to the entire NPPS staff on their first day back. What an experience! I was nervous, but I made it through without passing out or falling down!

"On the Road Again" has become my theme song. I don't know how many miles I've put on my Mazda since school started. I've been to staff meetings, board meetings, and PTA meetings. I was even invited to a Rotary meeting. I travel to all ten schools each week to deliver differentiated lessons to 4th and 5th graders. (A girl told me today that she likes it when I come because it's always fun!)

Around 3 o'clock each day, I make it back to my office. I use this time for phone calls and to plan enrichment activities for K-3 grades. I'm so excited about the events that have been lined up so far. For example, the Wichita Children's theater is presenting a workshop at Hall School on October 2. Jefferson School will be having a student writing workshop with Nebraska author N.L. Sharp on November 16. We've also scheduled a parent/teacher workshop with teacher and author Nathan Levy. He is an expert in the field of gifted education, and he will be in North Platte on October 15th and 16th.

One of the things I'm most excited about is the district wide reading challenge, Score Big With Books. HAL has teamed up with Kids Klub for this event in which students in grades 2-5 form teams, read books, and compete against each other for the title of Best Readers in North Platte! I'm really looking forward to our Super Book Bowl on February 1!

When people ask me how I like my new job, my reply is so far...so good. I'm looking foward to other great things ahead.