education, kindness

Dots of Joy and Kindness

It started with a simple dot.

My oldest son, Daniel, caught my attention this summer as he pointed to the Braille dots located on floor numbers inside of an elevator. “I know how to read that,” he said, his voice steady and confident. I laughed and reminded him that the numbers were shown on the buttons, too. “No, really, I can read it. I can read Braille.” He traced his fingers across the raised dots and a smile spread across his face. “That’s the number 3. See? It matches the letter “c” with these four dots in front of it.”

I turned to my son and stared in amazement. We had never discussed the Braille alphabet before, nor did we know anyone who read it. I asked him how he learned Braille and he shrugged his shoulders, replying nonchalantly, “I just taught myself.”

This summer as I was presenting my Passion for Kindness PD sessions to teachers in my district, I shared this story and was delighted to meet Debra Reames, who works directly with students with visual and hearing impairments. We had an instant connection, bubbling over with excitement in all the ways we can inspire our students with joy through kindness. Towards the end of our session, she showed me her Braille bracelet and even painted a JOY rock to add to my collection.

The next week my son and I received mail from Debra which included inspirational quotes, printed Braille alphabet cards, and our names typed out on card stock in Braille. My son was so excited to receive these acts of kindness!

On Saturday, September 15, 2018, also known as International Dot Day for Peter H. Reynolds’ fans, I decided to make my “one dot mark” by creating joyful kindness rocks in Braille to share with Debra and her students.

Using rocks I purchased at the Dollar Tree, a little bit of paint, and a lot of precision with a toothpick, I created four JOY rocks with raised Braille dots that I sealed with a thin layer of Mod Podge on top. Now her visually impaired students can feel joy as they read it, too! (I’m sending them to her on Monday… shhh, don’t tell!)

I had so much fun painting JOY rocks for Debra and her students, I created a few of my own #passionforkindness rocks to scatter around my community throughout the week. You never know when someone may need a little reminder of joy, love, and hope!

Peter H. Reynolds encourages us through his writing to “make your mark on the world.”  While making a difference takes a little bit of effort and courage, it isn’t hard and doesn’t have to be expensive. I try to make my mark through simple acts of kindness, but your mark might be making a meal, calling a friend, or playing a game with a loved one.

Make your mark with time.

Make your mark with joy.

Make your mark today.


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education, grief, reflection

On That Day

 

On that day, I opened the door to my third grade classroom having no idea that our country would be under attack within the hour.

On that day, I marked attendance, taking for granted that every child would be present that day and the next.

On that day, I watched as students unpacked their backpacks and got settled in, waiting for me to teach them lessons they needed to learn.

On that day, I discovered just how important it was to be their teacher.


They were seven and eight years old. They had no concept of terror other than the make-believe monsters that hid under their beds and the shadows that played tricks on them at night. They slept with their favorite stuffed animals and baby dolls and wrote stories about cats and dogs, flowers and friends.

Our day was blissfully normal in every way. In Tennessee, school had begun a few weeks before; we were still getting to know one another. A knock on my door changed everything.

“A plane just flew into the Twin Towers. It’s on TV, but don’t let your kids see.”

Minutes later, I took the students to their specials class, then raced back to my room to watch the events unfold in real-time horror.

Another plane.

Fire.

Smoke.

Collapse.

Chaos.

Shock.

Students returned to class and I had to continue teaching as if nothing had happened. How could I begin to explain that day when I didn’t even understand it myself?

All I could do was hug my students a little tighter, a little longer, reminding them how important they were to me. I told each and every student that I loved them.

It’s been 17 years since 9/11 and I remember it like it was yesterday.

And each year, I receive a message from one of those eight year olds who sat in my class that day.

“Hey, Mrs. Letter. I hope all is well for you. I just wanted to say that every year I remember that day and I remember the conversation we had on the reading mat in your room. I remember the questions we asked and the confusion we all had at what was happening and why those “bad guys” would do such a thing, etc. but I also remember feeling safe in your classroom. I always knew that as long as I was in your class (even from wasps… which you taught us how to ignore when they fly in the portable) and I knew I was loved. Pretty vivid memories for a third grader but that’s the impact you left on me and I thought I’d remind you!”

Some years the message sent is long; other years the message is short and sweet. But for one day of the year we are connected again, teacher and student, with a bond that will never be broken. I am reminded of the life-long impact we have on our students’ lives with our words and actions, even in those moments of unscripted conversations that are raw and real.

We keep our students safe.

We remind them they are loved.

We put on our battle armor and shield our students from a world that is complicated and cruel at times.

On that day, I decided evil would not win.

On that day, I discovered love was louder.


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education, kindness

The Kindness Teacher

This afternoon as I was standing in the checkout line of our local Food Lion grocery store, I heard a sweet voice call out my name.

“Mrs. Letter! Mrs. Letter!”

I turned my head to see a young girl grinning from ear to ear, her arms already outstretched for the hug she knew would come. I stepped to the side and embraced her; her delight in recognizing me almost overwhelming us both. Her two siblings came near, and I wrapped my arms around them as well.

“Mommy, this is Mrs. Letter. She was my kindness teacher!”

The mom smiled at her daughter, then smiled back at me as she said the most wonderful words I had heard all day.

“I know.”

She knows. 

Her mom knows my name.

She knows I am her daughter’s “kindness teacher.”

Maybe there have been discussions at the dinner table of the lessons we shared. Perhaps her daughter retold one of our kindness stories or maybe they did some acts of kindness together, sparked by our kindness challenges throughout the year.

Even though I have never met her mom, and don’t teach her child’s class on a regular basis, she knows who I am and what I’m all about.

That’s the power of teaching with passion. No matter your role or title, you have the power each and every day to impact the life of a child in a positive way. In fact, you can make such a difference that a child will remember your name long after you have touched their life.

Be you with every ounce of passion, love, and exuberance you can share. Because one day there might be a little girl who shouts your name from across a grocery store, introduces you to her mom, and completely makes your day.

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Change is an Opportunity

Last week I had the honor of leading the closing keynote for the Clarke Innovation Conference. As several of you know, I’ve had “Keynote Presenter” on my professional bucket list for quite some time, ever since I got a taste of keynoting at a local conference several years ago.

The topic of my keynote was embracing change, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. There is so much fear and trepidation that accompanies change, both of which I’ve had to overcome this year. From transforming learning spaces to transforming mindsets, I’ve ventured into uncharted territory without a compass, without a guide, without the guarantee of success.

It’s been a year of highs and lows.

In this year of embracing change I’ve discovered a lot about myself and in the process I’ve grown in ways I never thought possible. I’ve also learned that while change is often unpredictable, it also creates opportunities that might not have existed before.

Change is an opportunity… to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. My year has overflowed with incredible eureka moments, from figuring out how to app smash green screen videos to guiding teachers and students in using programs like Flipgrid, Seesaw, and G-Suite to showcase student learning. I’ve collaborated with amazing educators to dive into coding, themed days, and project based learning and discovered the true meaning of #bettertogether.

Change is an opportunity… to face your fears and triumph over tribulation. Several times this year I have fallen flat on my face in a lesson, a presentation, or a conversation. In each situation I had a choice to make excuses or learn from the experience and apply that learning to making myself a better person. While the fear lingers below the surface at times, I’ve discovered just how resilient I can be when I give myself, and others, a bit more grace and compassion.

Change is an opportunity… to value vulnerability and inspire others. It’s one thing to say “Failure is an opportunity to learn;” it’s quite another to discuss your failures with complete strangers as you process the learning experience. By connecting with other educators on Voxer and joining book study groups like #PathtoSerendipity, I’ve learned that I’m not alone when those trees block my view. There’s always another hiker who has climbed the same mountain with tips on how I can reach the summit, too!

Change is an opportunity… to discover your passions and your purpose. For the past six years I have traveled a path of sharing kindness with others, but not always in the public eye. This was the year I decided to “cannonball in” as Tara Martin describes and embraced my calling as a writer, a kindness cultivator, a champion for all things good. I brought my passion for kindness into the classroom, collaborating with teachers on kindness lessons and passion projects, then climbed even higher to welcome news crews into our learning space, knowing that every story that is told is one more seed of kindness planted in this world.

Change is an opportunity… to embrace new challenges and soar to new heights. Next year, my role as technology integrator will shift as I move to supporting two schools instead of one. While this change was met with paradoxical joyful sadness from those with whom I serve, it made me realize just how blessed I am to have strong, lasting relationships with my current staff and students. In the words of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

As we wrap up our final week of school, I reflect on all the different ways I have been impacted by change this year and I’m simply astounded.

I never knew I was this strong.

I never knew I was this determined.

I never knew I could be so brave.

Change has been, and always will be, a constant in our lives. How we choose to embrace change is what sets us apart from others. Will we walk safely on the trail below seeking shelter from the storms or will we hike to the summit to watch the sunrise of a new dawn appearing above?

I’m lacing my sneakers and choosing the hike. How about you? We have a whole summer to ponder the possibilities and shift our mindsets for growth. Won’t you join the journey with me, too?

In the words of George Couros, change is an opportunity to do something amazing! What are we waiting for? Let’s go!


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A Jet Stream of Kindness

As we wind up another school year and reflect about the memory-making lessons we’ve shared throughout the year, we received a sweet surprise today!

In early October, we introduced our year-long kindness initiative by watching a YouTube video of an eight-year-old boy in Texas named Jet Stream Jax. In his video, he shared his passion for weather forecasting and storm chasing. Mesmerized by his passion, we were instantly drawn to his video clips. As Jet Stream Jax’s video continued, we were heartbroken to see the devastation that Hurricane Harvey caused to his community.

We dove into discussions of empathy and compassion as we listened to Jet Stream Jax’s call to action. He wanted to rebuild the playgrounds destroyed by the hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Puerto Rico. Partnering with Kids for Peace and The Great Kindness Challenge, Jet Stream Jax encouraged us to collect “Kind Coins” to help in the restoration. We did exactly that as we remixed relevance with our future kindness lessons.

Today, exactly two weeks after our Kindness Share Fair, we got to meet our inspiration!

Mrs. Madison and Mrs. Cross’ classes sat in wide-eyed wonder as we connected with Jet Stream Jax over FaceTime using my cell phone for portability. It was such a joy to see and talk with him virtually, even though he was several states away!

 

 

After making our introductions, he showed us their rebuilt playground which was more like an obstacle course from American Ninja Warrior. They even had a timer to track how fast they could complete the course which Jet Stream Jax did for us in 46 seconds! Wow!

He and his counselor, Barbara Greuner (who is also the author of the book What’s Under Your Cape? SUPERHEROES of the Character Kind), showed us around their Peace Garden, holding up the rock they painted for our school. They also showed us a rock they received from Europe and one painted by Jet Stream Jax’s family.

 

Several students came to the front and chatted with Jax about their Kindness Passion Projects, trading stories of kindness and inspiration. One student remarked that she was born in Texas and while others shared their love for weather watching and video making.

 

 

We learned that the next playground to be built will be one in Puerto Rico, then we shared with Jax how we recently had flooding that wiped out several streets in our district. As if on cue, a roll of thunder could be heard and it was time for Jax to get inside his building for safety. We said our goodbyes and one student remarked, “I can’t believe we just met Jet Stream Jax! That was so cool!” He is already a celebrity in our eyes.

We took some time to reminisce about the Kindness Share Fair then talked about all the ways we can scatter seeds of kindness by sharing our story with others in person and on social media.

I pulled up my Twitter account and showed the students our Kindness Share Fair post which displayed all the likes, retweets, and comments. We scrolled through and read each one and discussed how far and wide our projects are reaching. Then we talked about the kindness notes a student found on the playground today, a sign that other students are joining in the fun of sharing kindness, too.

We wrapped up our lesson by crowning each student Kindness Kings and Queens, then took a class pictures to frame and display.  To quote a line from the play, Wicked, “Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Indeed we have.

 


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Kindness Share Fair 2018

Be the good you want to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

We have repeated this mantra all year as our fourth and fifth grade students explored various aspects of empathy, compassion, and kindness. From collaborating on service projects for charity organizations to sharing kindness with strangers in other states, our students’ mindsets about how they can positively contribute to this world have shifted from passive consumers to engaged advocates.

In February, we shared with our students that they would create a Kindness Passion Project to showcase in the spring. We spent a class period discussing various people we could bless, different locations we could visit, and all sorts of ways to show kindness to others. By allowing our students complete choice in designing their projects, we learned more about their personal passions, hobbies, and interests, which helped us strengthen relationships in the process.

Best of all, we told students that they would not only create a kindness project, but they would implement it, too, because each student in the class would receive a $10 bill to fund their project! Oh, my goodness, if you could have been in our room the day we shared that news – they were in complete disbelief! Many students had never even held a $10 bill, much less spent that much money on someone else!

In March, students researched the costs of their materials, which was eye-opening indeed. By visiting retail websites like Target, Walmart, and Kroger, students quickly discovered how to be savvy shoppers to get the best deal for their limited budget. Using a planning guide that was glued into their Kindness Journals, students made notes of their purpose, materials, and procedure. It was a great way to integrate math and science skills into our lesson!

 

The week before Spring Break, I met individually with all forty students to share a “Kindness Conference,” discussing their Kindness Passion Projects in-depth and determine what support they would need from parents. Together we customized a parent/guardian letter, explaining the details of their project and the support they would need from an adult at home. In order for the $10 to be sent home with the child, parents/guardians had to commit by signature to helping their child; otherwise, we would use the $10 to purchase supplies and help students complete their projects during the school day. We made sure to provide equity so all children could participate in this event.

In April, students scattered kindness in the world as they implemented their Kindness Passion Projects, making notes of what they did and what happened next. We encouraged them to reflect on the experience, describing how it made them feel and if they would want to continue doing acts of kindness in the future. Later in the month, we taught the students how to create a Google Slides presentation to share with the world, documenting all the various steps of their Kindness Passion Projects. This was a great opportunity for students to communicate and collaborate as well.

 

On May 8, 2018 we opened the doors to our Innovation Lab for our second annual Kindness Share Fair, inviting parents, teachers, school board leaders, and community stakeholders to visit with our students and learn more about their Kindness Passion Projects. We had an incredible turnout with a nonstop flow of visitors as shown by the three pages of signatures in our Innovation Lab guest book!

As our guests arrived and mingled with students, the room was filled with a low buzz of chatter as students shared their projects with community members. Many of the comments were priceless:

“You don’t need to go to Disney World to find joy – there is plenty of it right here!”

“When I did this act of kindness, it was the best day of my entire life because I made a difference for someone else.”

“I know I can change the world. I just did!”

We had to locate a tissue box for two our of guests, as tears filled their eyes from listening to our students’ stories of kindness. See, this wasn’t just a “project for school”… Kindness Passion Projects were born in the hearts of our students. They were passionate about their recipient and the acts they chose to give. The students saw first-hand the impact of their actions as they stepped out of their comfort zones to show kindness to others.

One student blessed a school nurse because her Grandma had just passed away. Another student cleaned up litter after learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch during a science lesson. A third student left toys scattered around a playground then watched as they were discovered and enjoyed by other children.

We even had one student deliver pots of planted seeds to his teachers, only to discover that seeds of kindness really do bloom and scatter!

“You need to give them water and sunlight to grow.”

 

Three weeks later we see the results of that great advice!
We had animal lovers blessing veterinary hospitals, animal control shelters, and dog parks. We had children greeting neighbors for the first time with cups of cold lemonade and freshly baked cookies. Our recipients even shared their joy on social media with posts made on Twitter and Facebook!

 

 

(If you can’t stand the suspense and want to see our student projects now, CLICK HERE!)

As our guests visited with the students and learned about their projects, we also saw them enjoying the other stations we had available around the room:

  • Read About Kindness – Our carpet and pillows area showcased kindness books we’ve read this year so others could read and enjoy.
  • Kindness Raffle – Each guest received three raffle tickets when they arrived. At the Kindness Raffle table, all prizes were displayed with a cup beside them. Guests could choose which cup they wanted to put their ticket into for a chance to win that prize. All winners were notified by email or phone that afternoon!
  • Refreshments – Mrs. Cross and Grandpa Letter donated sweet treats for our celebration to share with our guests.
  • Call to Action – Post-it notes and pens were provided so guests could make a commitment to doing at least one act of kindness, sharing how our Kindness Passion Projects inspired them to Be the Good. Guests then added their notes to our Call to Action Wall in the front of the room. We will use these notes to create a Kindness quilt for our hallway!

 

All Kindness Passion Projects are displayed on our kindness website if you want to take a peek. You can also enjoy the video our district made of our special day. It was so empowering to show that no matter your age or disposition, you can truly impact someone else in a positive way by your words and actions!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To show our students the power of using social media in a positive way, we are tracking this blog post to see how many people we can inspire with our projects. In June, we will view all the likes, retweets, and comments to gain a greater understanding of how our seeds of kindness are scattering around the world. Please use the hashtag #passionforkindness if you decide to share with your friends! The direct link to our kindness website is http://bit.ly/MESkindness.
We hope you enjoy our projects. We’ve had so much fun blessing others in creative ways! Thanks for sharing in our joy!

 

 

To view reflections from our 1st Annual Kindness Share Fair in 2017, visit http://bit.ly/kindsharefair. A special thanks to Renee’s Cheerios Memorial Fund for sponsoring our Kindness Passion Projects this year.


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Innovation Lab Update

Several people have reached out to me on Twitter and Facebook inquiring about our Innovation Lab and its transformation. I realized, while I have spotlighted several activities throughout the year, I have yet to write an overview of our journey thus far.

I became a technology integrator ten years ago, assigned to an elementary school in the same district I attended as a child. I have been in the same room, in the same school, for all of this time. Over the years, it has been a huge struggle for me to get others to view this space as “our room” as my desk was in the back and the room was filled with heavy tables, chairs, and laptops. Because this was the room I was assigned, people viewed it as “Mrs. Letter’s Lab”, not a shared working space. When teachers wanted to collaborate with me, they brought their students to this space because it was easier than rolling a huge, metal cart across our open-campus school with sidewalk cracks and uneven terrain.

Every lesson used a laptop.

Every student sat in a chair.

Every chair faced the front of the room.

I died a slow death with each lesson I taught.



Ten years ago, “innovation” wasn’t the focus as it is now. I struggled to adjust to this new structure of instruction – wanting to support technology integration efforts of others in a space that never shifted, with a room design that was static and stagnant.

When I was a classroom teacher, my room was fluid. If I wanted small group work, we moved desks around and made it happen. When we had a camping day as a culmination for our “Where the Red Fern Grows” unit, we pushed the desks to the side, brought in pillows, sleeping bags, and flashlights, and told spooky stories while “roasting” Smores over our pretend campfire.

Camping Day in Mrs. Letter’s Classroom (Memphis, TN – 2002)
I was that teacher. I did whatever it took to engage my students in learning and make my classroom the space that I wanted as a student. I would dress up as a pioneer. I would transform my students into museum tour guides. I created learning experiences that went beyond the textbook because I wanted to cultivate a love of learning in my students in the same way my 6th grade language arts teacher, Mrs. Dalton, did for me.
She had a plastic bubble.
In the middle of her room.
You could read, write, or draw in the bubble, but had to earn the right to go inside.
That’s all the incentive I needed to become a teacher.
But that was then and this is now. I changed roles from classroom teacher to technology integrator and this was my new reality. Four walls and a door. Twelve tables, twenty-four chairs. I taught my lessons, walking in and out of each row, monitoring laptop screens from the back, but I knew this wasn’t ideal for learning.
It wasn’t ideal for my students.
 
It wasn’t ideal for me.
 
Since a large part of my job is providing teachers with professional development, I wanted a space that could attend to their needs as well, in a cozy environment – not one with stark, white, cement walls and immobile furniture. I needed more. They needed more.
Two years ago I took a risk. I started a GoFundMe campaign to change up the back corner of Lab 1 so it was more appealing for teachers. Inspired by the #StarbucksMyRoom hashtag, I designed this space, dreaming big. Gone was my teacher desk – I wanted bar height tables and chairs! A coffee maker! A bookshelf with new, relevant books by up-and-coming authors (not the books that were written decades before and collecting dust in my garage.) Could I even get a sofa? Who puts a sofa in a computer lab?
Apparently me.
 
Bar height table and coffeemaker (My Zumba instructor later donated a Keurig to the Tiny Tech Cafe!)

 

The start of our Lending Library – always accepting donations!
Doesn’t everyone have a sofa in their computer lab?
With the financial support of friends, family, and community stakeholders, we opened our Tiny Tech Cafe September 6, 2016 and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers were now stopping in to grab a cup of coffee or take a quick break in their day and almost always these resulted in conversations with one another.
My relationships with teachers grew as did my desire to make this happen for students, too.
Digital logo I designed for our Tiny Tech Cafe
I even painted our own Tiny Tech Cafe canvas!
In Spring of 2017, I applied for a Creative Classroom Grant with the Hanover Education Foundation to transform the remainder of the room, so that we could have flexible seating options and resources at our fingertips whenever we needed them. (Do you know how many times I had to run down the hall and ask someone if we could borrow pencils, paper, and clipboards as we worked with technology? We needed basic supplies in here, too!)
Our grant was fully funded (with matching funds from my school) and we were on our way! So exciting! Unfortunately it was a painstakingly slow process to get everything in place according to the vision and timeline. When school began in September, I was still waiting for bulletin boards to be removed, shelves to be added, and stools to be put together. There was no official “Welcome to Our Innovation Lab” grand opening because… well… it was, and is, a constant work in progress!
But we had portable tables and, for me, that was enough to start diving in!
Students enter “polling booths” to vote on SCA Officers
Students learning about hurricanes and Kind Coins from Jet Stream Jax in TX
As the year progressed, we started building out the room. We purchased a green screen app for our iPads and made arrangements to keep the iPads in the Innovation Lab so access was equitable and convenient. We even created a coloring poster and invited students, teachers, and parents to work together to make it come to life so a part of them would be displayed in our room.
Creating green screen winter haiku videos
Adults and children coloring during Open House

 

Our finished poster – “Create”
We put velcro tabs on the wall and added 12 x 12 Lego plates so the traditional “Lego Wall” could actually be dismantled into individual work stations using the Legos we inherited from a former Legos club.
Each green tile can be removed from the wall to use anywhere in the room.
Mrs. Tapper and I exploring Lego pattern building during our Mardi Gras Makerspace (Teacher PD)
We added a recording studio for students who were self-conscious about recording themselves. We added carpet. Pillows. I got a great end-of-season sale on patio furniture cushions and purchased 6 scoop bucket seats for $35 (which, by the way, are a hit for all students K-5, no matter what that weight limit says on the box!)
Our corner recording studio
Students can zip themselves inside the recording station to record!
Students working in small groups around the room in the scoop bucket seats
“If you build it, they will come.” I clung to this Field of Dreams mindset, hoping others might see the potential this space could have for ALL students, ALL teachers, ALL disciplines. I started shifting the types of lessons I offered with teachers, guiding them through problem-solving design processes and small group station rotations with students leading the way.
The Innovation Lab wasn’t just a shift of space; it was a mind shift as well.
In February, our bulletin boards were removed from the walls and shelves added in their place which completed our makerspace area. Now we could store our bags and crates of supplies into neatly labeled containers that were easy to reach.
Materials organized, labeled, easy-to-reach
Makerspace ready for use with shelves for project creations!
Our Innovation Lab has 100% flexibility in design, in purpose, even in scheduling. We created a website for our space and distributed magnets with the website URL to all teachers so at the click of a mouse they can add their name to a Google Sheets spreadsheet and reserve the lab for whatever need they have. They can also use this website to request supplies, borrow a book from our lending library, or be inspired by lesson ideas of others.
Innovation Lab Website with tabs for pages across the top

 

Our Innovation Lab banner displayed outside the door
I’m proud to see all the ways this space is being used. We’ve had theme days like Talk Like a Pirate Day with back-to-back lessons complete with station rotations. We’ve shared in collaborative learning experiences between classes as older students support the learning of younger students. We’ve coded robots, designed three dimensional shapes with 3D Doodler pens, and created public service announcement commercials about why you should Save the Bay.
Our students are at the helm of their learning experiences. They are teaching us how to create videos with iMovie and new uses for cardboard rolls and tape. They are solving real world problems and developing compassion and empathy in the process. They are offering suggestions on how to make things flow better and sharing their expertise with others. They are even taking ownership of JOY with Jubilant Outcries of Yes!
For those who are worried about the loss of testing space, have no fear. In less than five minutes time I can transition this learning space back into a traditional computer lab complete with twenty-four laptops, twenty-four chairs and six stationary tables. (Yes, I have actually timed myself to see how fast I could go!)
Now we have paper.
And pencils.
And clipboards.
And the moment that testing is complete, we can get back to learning the way learning is intended.
The way we need it to be.
 
———————————————————
Connect with Tamara on Twitter (@tamaraletter) or email (tletter@hcps.us). We also welcome visitors, so please contact her to set up a date/time if interested in stopping by! A special thanks to Dave Burgess, George Couros, Katie MartinTom Murray and Kayla Delzer for their innovative ideas and inspiration that fueled the fire for change. We are definitely better together!
For more information our journey in creating this Innovation Lab, visit the blog posts below!
September 2017
 
October 2017
December 2017
February 2018
March 2018
Celebrating Seuss (Video Promo)

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Kindness Rocks for Parkland

 

There are times in life where we can’t begin to imagine the global impact of our actions. We are focused on our one moment in time, doing what we do, thinking, “That’s it! Mission accomplished. On to the next thing.”

We have no idea how far our seeds can scatter.

Two weeks ago we celebrated Random Acts of Kindness week (#RAKweek2018), a global celebration of kindness promoted by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. As part of our year-long “Passion for Kindness” initiative, we decided that Valentine’s Day would be a perfect day to dive into a new project – scattering seeds of kindness throughout our school to remind people that they matter.

We transformed our Innovation Lab into two work stations:

Kindness Posters/Hearts of Gratitude – Students could create kindness posters to display around the school or write notes of gratitude for staff members

Kindness Rocks – Students could paint inspiring messages on rocks to hide around campus to be discovered by others

Our planning caught the eye of our local news station, WTVR Channel 6 news, and Rob Cardwell visited our lesson to showcase it on their Building Better Minds segment. It was an exciting day for us as we have continually expressed to our students the importance of sharing their story with the world and using digital communication for good. Now we had an opportunity to make it happen for REAL!

We began our lesson by revisiting the progress on Jet Stream Jax’s Peaceful Hearts Playground, as our students had donated coins in the fall for the Kind Coins campaign to rebuild school playgrounds following the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. We zoomed in to the photos Barbara Gruener provided of their kindness rocks and peeked at her Flipgrid to see an example of the messages they painted on their rocks. We also talked a bit about how kindness rocks have been used in our local community with #rvarocks on Twitter and RVA Rocks Facebook Group.

The students spent the next forty minutes creating and collaborating; it was a delight to show our visitors how seamlessly we incorporate our state-mandated content of reading and writing with character development, social emotional learning (SEL) skills, and the 5C’s of successful life skills. Our rocks were set aside to dry and we made plans to hang our posters and share our hearts of gratitude later in the week.

 

 

 

That afternoon the world learned about the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Another school shooting.

Flashbacks to Sandy Hook.

#26acts.

Now there are 17 more.

I. Can’t. Believe. This. Is. Happening.

_____________________________________

As an educator, my sweet little world of kindness came to a crashing halt.

Again.

I wrote a bit about my feelings in my I Can post as the tragedy swirled in my brain. The next day it was business as usual in my elementary school, but I felt the weight of the horror pressed against me, a dark cloud suffocating the joy from the day before. I wanted to do something, anything, to share kindness with this school community who would be forever changed by the events on Valentine’s Day. But what on earth could we do to possibly help them?

Kindness rocks.

I brought the idea to Mrs. Madison and her students to see if they would be interested in donating their beautifully painted kindness rocks to another school that might need a little reminder of hope and love and joy. They readily agreed.

We did not talk about the tragedy at hand; but rather, we talked about the impact kindness has when it is scattered and shared with others. We imagined what it would be like for others to find our rocks and how they could keep the rock as a reminder of kindness or hide it again for someone else to find.

“Can we make more rocks, Mrs. Letter? So we can send them some AND keep some here?”

More rocks.

More paint.

Hope and love and joy.

 

_____________________________________


Say their names” was a constant whisper on my heart. I decided to make seventeen of our rocks memorial rocks, one for each of the lives lost on that day. As I added their names to my bullet journal, I lifted up a prayer for each of the families whose pain was greater than I could bear.

On the back of each kindness rock, I added their names then wrote encouraging messages on the remaining rocks. I captured each rock using Flipgrid (Code: 5ea50c) so anyone who finds a rock with #kind4MSD on the back could leave a video response in return.

 

 

My assistant principal, Mr. Davis, posted the Flipgrid on our school’s Facebook page, which caught the attention of my district. They, in turn, created a video compilation of the memorial rocks to post on our district social media sites.

MES Facebook Post

 

HCPS Facebook Post

The next morning, our rocks were mentioned on the news.

By a different news station than the one who had filmed our lesson the week before.

The seeds of kindness are scattering.

_____________________________________
 

In times of complete and utter helplessness, we often feel paralyzed, like there is nothing we can to do make a difference, no action we can provide that will make things better. I felt that immobilization for a solid week before I realized that all the tools I needed to show compassion were with me the entire time.

Kind words.

Kind actions.

A heart to comfort the pain of another.

We are sending out our kindness rocks to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School this week in hopes that when they arrive, someone at the school will hide them around campus to be discovered by students and staff. We will check our #kind4MSD hashtag periodically to see if there are any updates or posts from others or perhaps it will spark more kindness rocks to be created and shared around the world!

Be the good.

Share in kindness.

Inspire others.

_____________________________________

On Tuesday, March 6, WRIC Channel 8 News in Richmond, Virginia, showcased our kindness rocks during their 6pm broadcast. On Wednesday, March 14, WTVR Channel 6 News showcased our kindness rocks during their Building Better Minds segment at 6am and 6pm.

Follow Tamara on Twitter or connect with her Passion for Kindness Facebook group to join in the fun of sharing kindness. Tamara is also writing a book about kindness with Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc. to share her kindness journey with the world!

For more information on kindness rocks read this post by Rachel Moravec, visit #rvarocks on Twitter, or connect with RVA Rocks on Facebook.


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education, ITRT

Olympic Makerspace – Part 2

As we prepare for the closing ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics, our students have been busy crafting their own designs and modifications to make the events safer, faster, and more enjoyable for all.

Four weeks ago, Ms. Banton and I introduced our Olympic Makerspace project to every fifth-grader in our school during their library time. We mapped out specific tasks for each week that included building background knowledge about the various sports, pondering the “I Wonder” questions that filled our minds, then narrowing down our thoughts to one driving question:

“How can I improve the Winter Olympics?”

Friends, let me tell you… we were BLOWN away by their ideas and suggestions. With over 100 students participating in this project, their passions shined through as they dug deep into researching their topics. In addition to learning more about the Winter Olympic games as a whole, they discovered specific nuances of each sport, like how the bars work to guide a bobsled and what makes the blade of a skate glide faster over ice.

Our students became researchers, not simply Googling a sport, but asking more questions and searching for more answers. “How do athletes keep warm on the snow and ice?” sparked deeper research into fabrics and costume/uniform designs. “Where do athletes stay during the Olympics?” transformed into a conversation about architecture and interior/exterior design. Students started analyzing photos and replaying YouTube videos to hone in on specific details they wanted to improve.

 

 

In Week 3, students began designing their projects on paper, identifying what materials they would need to build their prototypes and sketching out models of their improvements. In Week 4, we set out all the materials and let the students GO!

Some students worked together in small groups. Others worked alone. All students were engaged and focused on their projects. They grappled with the logistics of how to make their visions come to life and when their prototypes didn’t quite work, they revised their plan and made adjustments to redesign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We used Seesaw as our tool of choice to capture students’ projects, which allowed them as much time as they needed to explain their projects. We literally handed them the iPad and they did the rest on their own!

 

 

 

This snowboard includes straws on the bottom for smooth traction and additional safety over bumps.

As we reflect on the success of this project, we are already swirling with ideas of how we can take this concept of making and apply it to other themes throughout the year. Having a dedicated space in our school with ready-to-use materials and flexible seating makes this style of innovation quick and easy for our students!

 

 

A new ramp complete with safety sled

 

A redesigned ice skate to provide more stability with the country’s colors!

 

Did you know you can learn about math with making? Lots of angles in this design!

If you would like more information on how we redesigned our traditional computer lab space into an Innovation lab or various ways we have used flexible seating, please view the links below! We hope our Olympic Makerspace projects inspire you and your students to dream big!

 

September 2017
October 2017
December 2017
December 2017
January 2017

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education

Three Little Things

Last night I was tagged in two separate posts asking me to share three random facts about myself with the world. Now, I’ve seen these types of viral share posts flying around on Facebook, but never on Twitter with my trusted PLN.

I scrolled up and read through some of the responses and was immediately drawn in by the zany, the crazy, the simple, and the sincere. People were sharing about their families. Their travels. Their most prized possessions and the oddities that make them unique.
I learned who has been a Go-go dancer (Barbara) and who’s adopting a child (Jessica). I discovered that some of my PLN have very diverse heritages (Did you know that Angela is Cape Verdean, Black, Portuguese & Native American with a Chinese last name?)
I scrolled and I scrolled and I scrolled and with each three facts I read, I learned a little bit more about the people who share my passions, who lift me up, who inspire me with their words and kindness each day. I felt connected and the laughter that was shared throughout the night filled my heart with joy!
It made for a great virtual ice-breaker as each person was asked to tag three more people and the thread continued to expand left and right, connecting classroom teachers with administrators and first year teachers with seasoned educators holding multiple degrees and designations. Published authors were chatting with new bloggers and the walls of entitlement were flattened. Some were even brainstorming ways to have a Three Random Facts dinner at their next Edcamp!
We were just a group of people, getting to know each other a little better, with a LOT of fun in the mix.
It was a simple post, but WOW – what an impact! It made me realize once again the power of our words and how we can use our words to connect with others in a positive way.
I was so inspired by the collegiality that I created this padlet to capture any responses people may want to share and keep in one place. I thought it might be a fun way we can all learn about each other to share at conferences and #coffeeEDUs, showcasing the power of a PLN!

I would love for you to share your three random facts on this Padlet, too. Let’s show the world how social media can be used to strengthen relationships and shine a light on all the things that make us unique. (It could also be a great intro activity for a lesson with your students, too!) If you’ve never used a Padlet before, give it a go – you just double-click on the main page to start a text box!

A special thanks to Bethany Hill and Annick Rauch who tagged me in their threads – this has been SUCH fun! Another round of thanks to Jarrett for the tweet that started it all… you never know when YOUR question will go viral!
Jump on in and share your three little things… I can’t wait to learn more about you!

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