Charlotte's Web ThingLink

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

2nd Grade Student Newscast

5th graders traditionally create the school newscast for Alta Vista Elementary, but while they were away at science camp 2nd grade teacher Marika Parnell saw an opportunity to try something new with her class!

She collaborated with her Instructional ToSA, Christy Mills, to develop a plan to have her students create the newscast. The topic was field trips. Marika worked with class to produce a set of guiding questions that they would like to explore. The next step was to practice the interview process. Students were grouped into three interview teams, each with interviewers and a videographer. The teams developed a system that included the use of cue cards and the video recording was done with iOgrapher kits. 


It took a lot of practice for the students to understand all of the nuances of the process, including how to make sure the interviewer & interviewee stayed in frame, how to capture the audio clearly, and how to navigate the interview process by asking follow up questions when appropriate. Constructive feedback was essential for everyone to work and grow together. When they were ready they visited 3rd and 4th grade classrooms to complete the interviews. Marika said watching her 2nd graders interview the older students was a highlight of the project!

After the interviews they filmed the newsroom portion against a green screen backdrop, and Marika took on the role of editor. When she started she had no experience editing videos with iMovie, but she was able to learn through a process of trial and error with a little help from her STEAM ToSA, Mary Fran Lynch! This reflects the mantra of Marika's class: we try new things and if it doesn’t go well at first that’s ok as long as we keep improving and seek help when needed.


The newscast was an incredible success; Marika’s class is being recognized all over campus for their efforts and they are incredibly proud of their final product. Check out the full newscast below!


You can follow Marika on Twitter: @MarikaParnell

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Student-Created Scientific Investigations

Recently our 7th grade students at both Dartmouth and Union Middle school designed and carried out their own scientific investigations to learn about chemical reactions. Working collaboratively across both middle schools, our 7th grade science teachers created an authentic, phenomena-based opportunity for students to explore a concept while practicing the skills of writing accurately and to a specific audience. It was the first time this year our 7th graders were asked to develop an entire investigation from scratch.

The Setup: Students were provided a collection of safe substances that they knew little to nothing about and a collection of various lab equipment. They were asked to create a step-by-step process to determine what happened when the various substances were combined, and whether the changes they observed were physical or chemical in nature. After drafting their process in small teams, the groups then peer-reviewed each other’s directions and had the opportunity to make revisions.

Implementation: It was time to put student plans to the test. Students followed their own directions and observed all sorts of interactions. While the expectation was that their written directions were followed to the letter, they were allowed to make changes as they experienced problems with their initial plans - as long as they recorded their revisions. These opportunities to iterate were crucial, because instead of being locked into procedures that were either inefficient or would not work at all, students were able to learn from their oversights and mistakes and make adjustments along the way. A great example of this is a team that decided to use only one cup to mix chemicals. They quickly realized how time-consuming it was to thoroughly wash the cup between trials, so they adjusted their investigation to use multiple cups at the same time. A simple revision, but one that allowed students to experience the impact of the changes they were implementing.


Students created their own data collection and analysis tools, such as tables and graphs, which guided them to think critically about the types of information they needed to collect and how to best organize and analyze the data, instead of simply filling out a data table that was provided by the teacher. The investigation was followed by a Claims Evidence Reasoning formative assessment that asked students to determine which reactions they observed were physical and which were chemical, and to use the data they collected to support their conclusions.

The Outcome: Many of the teams struggled with different parts of this activity, especially when it came to writing specific and accurate directions, but they all came a long way throughout the process and made meaningful, real life connections to the concept of a chemical change. Students shared their experiences with working in teams and reflected on what they could do to improve when they work together again.

The next time our students create a scientific investigation in 7th grade, they will have to follow another team’s directions instead of their own. This will add another layer of accountability to their writing and allow them to see how others interpret their work!

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Smart Restart

On our first day back from winter break, staff throughout Union School District welcomed students with engaging and creative activities designed to get students excited about returning to school. Dubbed the “Smart Restart,” students, teachers and staff members participated in a variety of positive social emotional, hands-on and fun opportunities to create and explore together across all subjects and grade levels. Below are just some of the many wonderful activities that were experienced in Union School District on Monday.

Alta Vista Elementary students and staff were inspired by the book Picasso Loves Shapes, so each grade was provided a different die-cut paper shape in different colors and our students used them as inspiration to create their own works of art. Carlton Avenue students fashioned their own unique arcade games from used cardboard boxes and other random materials and invited everyone to play. Students at Guadalupe Elementary showed their artistic side, but some projects involved a twist: teams of seven had to work together to create a power word poster with a pencil tied to seven pieces of string that each member had to control.

At Dartmouth Middle School students participated in activities to promote social emotional growth through a Project Cornerstone kickoff, film making, water color painting and even competitive puzzle solving. Our Union Middle School students tried to solve Digital Breakout challenges and learned about healthy eating during Kitchen Chemistry activities. Students at Lietz Elementary explored various cultures through food and traditions and created art with words, while Oster Elementary students enjoyed STEAM centers, puzzle design and stop motion filmmaking. Noddin Elementary students completed a variety of engineering, coding and Minecraft challenges and some even made their own harmonicas!



Check out #USDLearns and #SmartStart on Twitter to see some of the other amazing things that happened during our Smart Restart, and thank you to everyone for creating such an amazing experience for our students!

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Hour of Code 2018

This past week close to 4,000 of our students and well over 100 of our teachers participated in Hour of Code! We saw an amazing variety of activities across all eight of our schools and all grade levels, including coding, game design, animation, robotics, sound design and many more. You can check out some of these great experiences on Twitter using #USDLearns and #HourofCode.


Our elementary STEAM ToSAs did a wonderful job of promoting Hour of Code and supporting their teachers in creating engaging and challenging opportunities to allow our students to explore computer science and programming. We also saw many great coding activities in our middle schools. Every student and teacher who participated in Hour of Code will receive an exclusive Hour of Code sticker designed by one of our very own students, Dartmouth 8th grader Ashita Apurva:

Thank you to everyone who participated in Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week and congratulations to this year's randomly selected Hour of Code winner, Nina Lamour, 5th grade teacher at Carlton Avenue School! Keep up the great work and if you haven't started coding with your class yet, it's never too late to start!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

School Community

Featuring Guest Blogger Navjot Grewal

Guadalupe’s student body has a great tradition of citizenship and community, and more so than any other time, this is showcased during the Student Council elections in the Fall. Led by Teri Susoev, Kathy Williams, and myself, we mentor students to be involved in their communities, give voices to their quieter peers, and advocate for those in need in our school community.

Every year, 4th and 5th graders have the opportunity to run for an executive office in the Student Council. The presidency is reserved for 5th graders, while the rest is open to both grade levels. Aside from the president, every other office can be occupied by a pair of students and this is where the strength of many of our students lies. Many of the applicants choose to run in pairs, writing their speech together, creating joint posters and usually having a catchy campaign slogan. They work tirelessly together to create a strong, cohesive image. Many of our offices are usually held by pairs of students.

In October, we begin the process of placing an open call for students to run. In the span of two weeks, we have posters up, speeches checked and ready to be delivered, and the election day ballot ready to go. During this time many students who we have misjudged as shy come out of their shells to run for office. Others, who are usually more exuberant and outspoken, are often our most nervous and worried. This is a time of growth for students, and a time for teachers to see students they had as first or second graders display confidence as bigger kids. It brings and bonds our school community closer together every year.

The speeches are where many of the students shine. We see them in a new light, grown up and assured, sharing a piece of themselves that can get lost in a classroom or on the playground. They make a tough case for the voting body on who to choose. While some elections can become popularity contests, once the speeches have been delivered the elections become more competitive with an evened playing field.  Students filter back into their classrooms, submit a digital ballot, and eagerly await the elections results in the five minutes leading up to a Friday afternoon dismissal.


There are tears, heartbreak, and a range of emotions as the results are announced by the principal over the PA system. The candidates are together in the media center while their friends wait for them outside on the playground. Giving the candidates a separate space allows those who have lost time to control their emotions and those who have won time to gather themselves and win with grace. There many hugs, congratulation, a few tears, and a lot of cheering in the media center regardless of victory or loss. This is my favorite part as an educator, to watch kids who have worked hard to recognize the hard work of others, to look beyond winning and losing, and to see how kind children can be to another when they’ve worked towards the same goals. While elections can be contentious, at Guadalupe they are symbolic of how our community works: together.

Follow Nav on Twitter: @WheresGrewaldo

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Pumpkin Design Challenge

Featuring Guest Author Todd Sinclair

This October, the 5th Grade team at Oster Elementary took on a new project inspired by the unofficial - and awesome - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) annual pumpkin carving contest. Engineers at NASA JPL have carved out an hour of time in October over the last seven years to show off their creativity while participating in this fun team building activity. These engineers take time off from designing and building machines that will explore the farthest reaches of outer space to create pumpkin displays with lasers, lights, robotics, and more.


We brought our idea to our incredible STEAM ToSA, Kaitlin Celestre, who quickly devised a plan to help our students tackle this as a design challenge. We provided the students with sessions to explore a variety of tools, including Little Bits, Snap Circuits, and Microbits, with the goal of inspiring design ideas to include in their pumpkin creations. Student teams were then given time to brainstorm a pumpkin design, sketch out their ideas, and develop a list of the electronic components and other items that they would use to further enhance their designs.




Families pitched in with pumpkins, carving tools, and man power to gut the pumpkins on the first day of the building process. Students worked on their designs during the two days before our annual Harvest Festival on Saturday, October 20th. Day One was full of carving, pumpkin painting, and testing the functionality and placement of the electronic components. Day Two was spent finalizing everything from Day One and troubleshooting any issues that arose. Students were fully engaged from the start, and throughout the design process they demonstrated effective teamwork, collaboration, persistence, creativity, and problem solving. Team after team found ways to resolve unexpected design issues to help bring their visions to life. The final projects were incredible.


Follow Todd on Twitter: @sinclairt7

Link to NASA JPL News Release
Link to video on NASA JPL Contest

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Computer Science

Jennie Reynolds is thrilled to be teaching the first year-long computer science (CS) class at Union Middle School this year. While she does not have an extensive background in CS (she took Basic C as an undergrad to fulfill a math requirement), she embraced the words of her master teacher - if you are a good teacher you can teach anything. She realized the truth in this when she taught a Minecraft class four years ago. Initially Jennie was terrified that she did not know enough about the program to effectively support the class. Instead, she learned that she often had to get out of the way of her students - they were passionate about their work and the learning was naturally embedded in the process as they brought their ideas to life. 

She attended a training over the summer that was hosted by Code.org, which was geared toward teachers who were just starting to teach CS. The free 6th-10th grade curriculum provided by Code.org, Computer Science Discoveries, has been fantastic. The first two weeks were completely unplugged and students focused on problem solving and culture building to instill patience and perseverance. 

All of her 7th and 8th grade CS students are in it together regardless of skill level, and they are always collaborating to support each other’s projects. They embrace the idea that even a student with more experience in CS can learn from everyone else in the class by working together. When they presented their websites last week, every single student had someone else to thank for making their designs work. 

With the recent release of the new California K-12 Computer Science Standards, Jennie is grateful for the opportunity to pilot this class. It is designed to introduce students to many of the key areas of CS and it will give them enough experience within each to understand what a career in any of these fields might entail. To further support this, Jennie will bring in guest speakers throughout the year, including a panel of women in software engineering from Salesforce and a genetic science graduate student from UC San Francisco. Her students are looking forward to the rest of the year, which includes work on animation and video games, empathy-based design challenges, the use of data in society, and physical computing.


Follow Jennie on Twitter: @ReynoldsMath

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