Lessons from “Virtual Pioneers”

A recent “Mystery Reader” visit to Mrs. Schnee’s virtual classroom. Traditional classroom experiences are alive and well even as format and delivery has changed dramatically.

This year has been a world of firsts for so many families, educators, and administrators. Personally speaking, August brought the need to shape shift from Science Specialist to Director of Burlington’s K-5 “Remote Academy,” a conglomerate of 40 educators from our four elementary schools and then some, designated with the task of educating anywhere between 380-400 elementary age students remotely for the entire academic year.

The first month of learning proved rocky. Teachers navigated new platforms of learning, discarding some (Google Jamboard) while embracing others (SeeSaw, Google Suite tools). Obstacles and failures were met with educator creativity and ingenuity. By October teachers and students alike had found a rhythm to their days and learning.

But only recently did the faculty have a formal opportunity to collectively exhale and share the benefits of ascending the remote learning curve: a richer toolbox of digital learning methods and the experience to use them expertly.

Timely and frequent communication (with boundaries) matters

“One of the first questions I received was, ‘what makes you qualified to teach my student remotely?’ I had to take a step back and then answer honestly, I’m not – no one is. But I am an expert teacher, and I’m going to find ways to teach your child that work remotely.”

This particular Remote Academy teacher’s honest and transparent approach, coupled with frequent messaging recapping the week and previewing what was to come, kept families connected to the student experience and how they could support them best. While communication was amplified during the day, teachers across all grades expressed the importance of also setting boundaries and turning off.

Many teachers discovered features on GMail previously unexplored, including GMail away messages, email templates, and schedule sends to ensure correspondence didn’t bounce back and forth late into the night. Third grade teacher, Crystal Muise-Keating waded into the inclusion of email to communicate with her students and found herself wondering why she hadn’t before, sharing “email provided the students who were too shy or uncomfortable showing their confusion an avenue to reach out.” Its a mode of communication she assured all she’d be keeping in place come next year.

Collaborate away the “Sunday scarries”

A bit of playful in-fighting took place midway through the roundtable when teachers began to lavish praise on their grade-level teammates for their collaboration over the year. Remote teaching put veteran and first-time grade level educators on the same, blank canvas to start the year. With sinking not an option as COVID cases accelerated, no one educator could possibly lay claim to already having remote learning down, and thus turned to one another more than ever before.

By coordinating resources and sharing the work teams lessen the load. Their students benefit from shared experiences and more parallel alignment. When teachers return to their in-person schools the wealth of learning will be shared even further!

Collaboratively-constructed Google Slides and Google Doc pacing guides and resource banks became the norm. “I’m done with my daily planner” shared one teacher, recognizing that the pacing guides built this year would be easy to reference and utilize in the next. The guides may even prove to bridge gaps between collaboration across schools when their “Dream Team” dissolves in June. Second grade teacher, Maureen Schnee shared that, “I used to get the Sunday scarries but never again! Thanks to our collaboration I have plenty to work with and explore to deliver in a way that works for me, in one place. I can’t wait to bring this back to my in-person team.”

“Keep it Simple” / “Less is More”

Though sharing proliferated, teachers seeking engagement through the vast array of available apps on student devices quickly grew frustrated and exhausted while simultaneously adapting in-person curriculum resources for the digital realm.

The first, and last Google Jamboard I created in September. Most elementary teachers found the lack of being able to track changes back to individuals and lock different template pieces to the pages more trouble than the collaborative tools it supported as they turned back to more familiar tools that did performed similar functions.

“Sticking to tools I was already familiar with [to adapt in-person learning to the remote classroom] made a big difference in feeling prepared for the day” shared one educator. Others took a wait-and-see approach to some of the newest resources highlighted at the outset of the school year, allowing early adopters and IT/media specialists to identify the most effective new tools, and build out a library to utilize and build on.

One such app that rose to the top was Nearpod. A presentation tool that allowed for a greater range of assessment and feedback tools to be used and reacted to seamlessly by teachers. For some it has become a staple to their everyday instruction. Nearpod ultimately became the standard model of delivery for the grades 1-5 social studies instruction.

Dig Deeper into existing tools

For others, meeting their own expectations for teaching and learning meant digging deeper and better utilizing the tools already available. “I found the Clever App to have a lot of unused features that turned the app into a one-stop shop for my students” shared library media specialist turned PE/wellness teacher, Kelly Floyd. “Without the traditional forms of PD this year I had to take it upon myself to find what I needed and explore it independently. Clever’s online professional development introduced me to features that I needed and didn’t know I had.” Its a tool that Kelly feels the district needs to bring more attention to, particularly as tighter budgets in the next academic year will inevitably lead to some of the tool subscriptions purchased by the district being allowed to expire.

Remote classroom management is made easier with simpler classroom workflow. The “CleverAcademy” proved to be an invaluable resource for at least one Remote Academy educator who came to realize the solution they needed was already at their fingertips!

For Library/Media Specialist / Grade 4 classroom teacher Dr. Rachel Small the deeper dig was into SeeSaw. The app’s blogging platforms provided students with an audience for the final product while she supported and assessed the improvement of their work in its draft stages. Crystal Muise-Keating added that she utilized the blogging platform as a way to create a “Creative Corner” for students to share whatever they were creating or passionate about at home with their classmates. “The kids have really enjoyed getting positive feedback from their classmates and I’m definitely creating one for my in-person class next fall.”

Keep it fresh – for students and teachers alike

Math Specialist / Grade 5 Teacher Jeff Pera wowed an audience of his peers during a short course later in the day while demonstrating a creative side and mastery of Google Forms in creating Escape the Room themed activities. “Once you make sense of how they from an existing template you can find on the internet, you can create them pretty easily and the kids love them.” Jeff shared how the activities were both novel for the students and collaborative, adding to the engagement factor of the lesson. Jeff also shared tips on how to facilitate, demonstrating how he drops tips into the game and in real-time by flowing through breakout rooms, helping groups like mine become unstuck in their thinking to solve the problems!

Mr. Pera cleverly slipped all sorts of codes into his existing virtual classroom and paired it with a holiday party narrative that breakout groups of students reveled in one afternoon leading up to holiday break.

Second grade teacher, Krystel Anderson shared a clever use of Google Spreadsheets to create pixel art students used to complete math practice. Using the power of the spreadsheets algorithms the art came alive as students correctly solved problems and colors dropped into the appropriate cells, shaping a recognizable image over time. Students posted their newly generated art to SeeSaw when completed, allowing Krystel to easily check the image to determine how well the students performed while practicing their math operations. Students stayed engaged throughout the problem set as a blank grid slowly revealed a fun image!

Pixel art has been a hit and has kept students practicing their math facts in Mrs. Anderson’s 2nd grade classroom!

Not to be outdone, the collaborative efforts of our IT Specialist, Michelle Ardizzoni and Art Teacher, Keith Mistler shined through in a scratch art project introduced during the Hour of Code month and facilitated to completion, giving students who have developed coding skills independently an opportunity to really shine through in a school setting they might normally have less opportunity to dazzle in. Student work posted during the Hour-of-Code put “student skills on full display, many of them far beyond what we were demonstrating and practicing. I am in awe.” shared Mrs. Ardizzoni.

In a year where so much of the student environment was stationary at home, introducing these novel, ingenious tasks for students to chew on kept students connecting with both their classroom and grade-level content. Win-win! Many teachers reiterated at the conclusion of the round-table that they would be using many of these new teaching tools for years to come, whether remote or back in-person.

While this year has been a challenge like none other I am truly grateful to have been blessed with a faculty that has faced each challenge with the will to find paths forward that have engaged and enriched our students lives. Thank you again to presenters, Krystel Anderson, Michelle Ardizzoni, Kelly Floyd, Carrie Fortunato, Karen Hoyt, Crystal Keating, Donna Murphy, Jeff Pera, Amanda Samuels, Maureen Schnee, and Rachel Small for sharing their learning and to all the Remote Academy educators who have been remote learning pioneers all year long.

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I Am a Scientist: Analyzing Handwashing Methods

With the school day schedule turned upside-down this year, Burlington elementary students are receiving their science instruction remotely via synchronous instruction by its grades 1-5 teachers. To kick off the school year, Wendy Pavlicek and I wanted to support our school’s efforts to instill effective handwashing procedures into all of its in-person students by developing an instruction sequence over four days that examined common handwashing methods seen by students. Within the sequence we took the opportunity to introduce the overarching essential question we commonly ask teachers to explore with their students. “How do scientists do their work?” and “How do I work and think like a scientist?”

Our four-day lesson sequence (full lesson plans outlined here) uses Glo Germ as a tool for modeling germ presence on surfaces, providing students visible data to analyze the otherwise invisible presence of germs on hands pre and post handwashing. Throughout the sequence we consistently revisit the question, “How do scientists do their work?” Each day’s lesson includes a video that teachers use as a vehicle to facilitate conversation with their students. Links connect to Google Slides that include student scaffolds to demonstrate learning.

Day 1: How do scientists do their work?

Focus is on eliciting student ideas and asking questions. To get students’ initial ideas and experiences on the table. To provide a supportive opportunity for students to make sense of what may not be fully formed ideas (either their own ideas or those of others).  Help students realize that there are gaps in our understanding to promote curiosity and what we could do next to figure something out. 

Teachers are encouraged to either chart student answers themselves or utilize a Google Jamboard designed to support the collaborative energies of students answering the essential question with their students across their households.

Day 2: Planning a Handwashing Investigation

The second lesson brings into focus several practices scientists perform, including asking questions, planning and conducting investigations, and using models. Teachers facilitate a discussion around the question, “How did Mr. Musselman & Ms. Pavlicek show how scientists work/behave?” and “What are some of the things/practices scientists do?”, answers that are only provided after students exercise the practice of obtaining and communication information from a media source. Students share answers with one another before recording their answers. On all occassions where students are asked to record their thinking, accessibility concerns are met by allowing students to either record their spoken word or written language using the SeeSaw app utilized by the district for K-5 learning through an activity like the one linked here.

Day 3: Analyzing Handwashing Method Data and Making Claims through Evidence

On the third day students observe the Glo Germ model investigation in action, and have the opportunity to review the results of the three handwashing techniques when Miss Pavlicek’s hands are put under the UV light after scrubbing.

Glo Germ results from our three handwashing method tests

The Glo-Germ provides visually compelling imagery for students to use while developing their claims as to which handwashing technique is the most effective. Students use the synchronous time making observations about each handwashing result, drawing comparisons between the three before being asked to write their claim at the conclusion of the lesson.

Day 4: Revisiting Student Thinking – New Understanding and Wonderings

Besides providing students opportunity to share their claims with one another, students also revisit their initial thinking around how scientists do their work on the chart paper or Google Jamboard created on Day 1. The four-day progression of student thinking rolled out through this investigation sequence we hope to use consistently throughout the school year when exploring other phenomena with students, allowing teachers and students to get into a rhythm around how the science investigations will develop across each science week of learning.

Besides spearheading the K-5 elementary science exeperiences this year, Wendy will be offering weekly “Wild Wednesday” programming for our students via Google Meet Livestreams during the district’s weekly half-day programming to allow for teacher collaboration time.

I would be remiss without explicitly acknowledging the efforts of my partner, Wendy Pavlicek on this and future lesson sequences. At the beginning of the school year I was unexpectedly thrusted into the roll of Director of our district’s “Remote Learning Academy,” the exclusively remote school year experience being offered to our students and their families that requested it at the beginning of the school year. What was originally planned to be a split share workload in developing our remote science experiences has shifted heavily on her shoulders. I am fortunate to have a partner who is so engaging and knowledgeable in the world of elementary science education. The accompanying lesson plans, Google Slides, and SeeSaw investigations have all been created primarily by her. Thank you, Wendy!

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STEM on the Shelf Episode 1: Sketch to Stretch with Crystal Muise-Keating

Its been three months and a summer to remember (or not?) A lot of personal memories have been made keeping two little boys busy in the COVID-era while professional anxieties have mounted with each passing day.

So it was extremely generous of colleague, Crystal Muise-Keating to play guinea pig and star as the guest of my pilot episode for “STEM on the Shelf” which has found its way on to the Spotify and Apple Podcast platforms while being hosted on Anchor.

We enjoyed talking family travel, bringing up politically-aware children, bird babies, and of course books! Crystal also shared a writing development strategy commonly used in Burlington classrooms called, “Sketch to Stretch”. You can learn more about the Sketch to Stretch strategy by visiting this resource page produced by the Illinois School Board of Education.

The school year is about to start and uncertainty reigns supreme, so it is hard to say when the next STEM on the Shelf episode will broadcast. That said, I hope you will consider listening on whichever platform you prefer and leave a review with some warm and cool feedback. Podcasting is a labor of love that I’m trying to define as a “hobby,” a use of time that has been identified over and over as an important way to tough through uncertain times like these!

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Got a STEM-themed picture book you love? Let’s talk.

As a kid, there are few picture books that stuck with me as well as, “How Much is a Million?” by David Schwarz. Specifically, the goldfish: How big would a bowl have to be to host one million goldfish? What about a billion? I couldn’t stop thinking about it at the time. A stadium-size bowl for a billion goldfish. Imagine that! The imagery lingers today and provided a mental model to work with as I came across bigger and bigger numbers more often.

Even as a kid I recognized the illustrations in “How Much is a Million” changed the way I understood big numbers.

The Caronavirus has turned our world’s upside-down. Classrooms have moved virtual, with face-to-face time focused on the social-emtional needs of our students rather than sensemaking of the world around them. As the weeks have turned into months, the possibility that alternative September schedules may scale back elementary science time has crept deeper into my brain. Though the Burlington Science Center has worked hard to provide, “Family Science Challenges” we continue to hear feedback from families feeling overwhelmed. The struggle has lead me to wonder aloud, “what else could be offered? What else can we share as science educators that could support student learning at home?”

On our own home front Mrs. Musselman and I have been keeping normalcy by reading a steady diet of picture books to our boys of all kinds. I have also been participating in the final meetings of a book club around Pernille Ripp’s, “Passionate Readers” which has brought “book-talks” front and center to my attention. My participation has brought me closer to many of my fellow educators while unveiling a wealth of books I may never have sought out without the gentle ‘nudge’ of a recommendation.

Some of the titles we bought online after reading and re-reading all of the library books and our own collection, roughly 50 days into our social-distancing.

Enter, “STEM on the Shelf” a podcast and passion project of sorts I hope to launch as the school calendar year winds down. Its purpose is simple: Connect listeners to a regular dose of favorite STEM-themed children’s books and habits of thinking and exploring, shared by educators and parents from all walks of life.

Got a STEM-themed picture book you’d love to share? Let’s talk.

I am currently in search of “guests” who are interested in simply having a (recorded) book-talk exchange with me while sharing a bit about how they bring STEM learning into their home along the way. The podcasts will be kept short (we are busy parents and teachers after all!), geared toward an audience more suited for the “Kids and Family” category on iTunes than the “Education” or “Science” variety.

Because this show is just starting out, you have an opportunity to help me shape it into what it becomes! I can’t promise fame, or even that many listeners, but I can promise an opportunity to connect personally with someone (me) who loves exploring our world with children and a few books highly recommended by my boys that you’ll want to check out for yourself!

Simply send me an email by following the link shared here and above to get the conversation started. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

Boys reading books,
“Have I got a book for you!”

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Designing Family Investigations for Remote Science Learning


It has been eight weeks since our Burlington Schools were closed due to the spread of coronavirus through our community. What was once a temporary inconvenience as turned into a remote learning trial by fire for school district’s across the state and country!

At the outset, our work at the Burlington Science Center focused on generating informal challenges that children and families could engage with and directing families to high quality, freely accessible resources like the NSTA “Think Like a Scientist” eBooks. But as we have moved from simply meeting the social/emotional needs of our students our work has expanded into multi-step investigations with students recording data, generating claims, and constructing explanations based on their observations.

Our first iteration of “Family Science Challenges” will be hitting our district’s ‘choice boards’ next Monday. Designed to be completed as a family unit, they aim to give flexibility to families with multiple children in grade school that may not have the time and energy to complete individual investigations for each and every budding scientist. They also hone everyone’s attention on to the scientific practices and content outlined as our “power standards” from the state.

Each Family Science Challenge centers on a question or engineering challenge. Family members share what they think they know, with each student recording their thinking in a science notebook designed to support each successive investigation. Families then conduct an investigation that checks their thinking and provides scientific data to apply to the next step in the challenge. Scientific vocabulary is provided through online read-alouds and/or short videos from trusted sources or created by Wendy Pavlicek and I.

Because of the shortened expectation of time on learning, usually three stages of the investigation are all that is “required” for completion of a challenge from a classwork completion standpoint. But each challenge also includes extension investigations with notes encouraging specific grade levels that would have otherwise experienced such learning face to face, or in preparation of scientific exploration in the following academic year.

While each investigation has been created in Google Slides, our district’s investment in the online classroom tool Seesaw has led us to convert mirror lessons into our district’s activity library. These lessons are freely available to other district’s that use SeeSaw as well. We have found this tool to be handy as it provides easy ways to overlay verbal instructions to students and families for each investigation stage and notebook page.

I will continue to update this post with challenges as they are produced. Feedback to improve these challenges is appreciated or the simple acknowledgement that you are using them is also welcomed!

A special thanks to our Library Media Specialists Jenn Scheffer and Michelle Ardizonni who provided support to the Science Center moving our Google created challenges over to the SeeSaw platform.

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Creating VR Experiences: A Journey


Exploring and creating VR experiences can feel a lot like it looks… navigating blindly, unsure where to go next, but entertaining and engaging nevertheless!

On February 7th I walked out of a VR EdTechTeacher workshop a bit flummoxed. For the first time in a long time I felt over my head, swimming in exposure to half dozen new tools and apps and several new paths of learning, but with unclear outcomes or goals. Such is the reality of virtual and augmented reality learning in today’s age, particularly for educators who may be less inclined to explore digital work-arounds and master the compatibility and integration issues of technology hardware and software changing at a rapid pace.

But then came the Caronavirus and suddenly the world turned upside-down. Big time commitments, like the NSTA National Conference were cancelled… then the next two months of school. And while social distancing and full-time child care became the new normal the need to stay engaged in some form of personal learning still called. A single opportunity to gather materials stuck in the office offered me the chance to grab a 360 camera I had borrowed and the chance to further explore the world of VR creation.

Given that my “audience” for the foreseeable future are four and two-years-old respectively, video curation centered around places they already love to be at but are limited to visiting (like the train station).

The most fun has come from the camera’s potential to shift the user to a miniature perspective. I explored this first through photo, jamming the camera into the bottom of a cardboard diorama featuring my pre-schoolers prehistoric art work. Later I moved to video through this Toy Train Virtual Reality Scavenger Hunt, which I find akin to the N64’s Pokemon Snap, riding the user along a fixed trail trying to capture observances of the listed figures as the ride moves forward.

The path’s final destination remains unknown, and fraught with the occasional dead-ends and obstacles. These include compatibility of different video formats and upload/download times due to the large sizes of video files (a challenge faced when wanting to take ourselves beyond still life touring.) While it is still hard for me to fathom putting these tools in the hands of elementary students for their own creation purposes, I see potential in its medium as a tool to share student work, engage in collaborative projects, and to bring students to locations that might otherwise be unmanageable.


360 images can look warped and bizarre when not viewed using software designed for it like Google Street View or hardware like the Facebook Oculus or Google Cardboard. To see my son’s VR Dinoland check it out through Google Street View here.

It is perhaps this last benefit that stands out in the rapidly changing world we are faced with. The Caronavirus and subsequent social distancing measures demonstrates the truth that methods for transporting us beyond our immediate spaces will only grow, regardless of the immediate challenges faced. While I patiently waited for my videos above to upload to YouTube, I investigated the curated links to VR content being shared in the Facebook 360 community. Immediately this PBS “Polar Lab” caught my attention with its beautiful integration of video and illustrated commentary. I’m sure there will be more that will capture my imagination and interest in creating with VR again. And so the journey continues…

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NSTA’s “Daily Do” and my eBook: Investigating Weather and Climate

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The NSTA recently made the generous decision to open all of its NSTA Kids eBooks freely available on the web at nsta.org/ebooks. These digital, interactive readers are aligned to Next Generation Science Standards across K-5 grade levels and a great boost to parents and educators looking for rich, accurate, and freely available science readers for remote learning purposes. The catalog includes my own eBook, “Thinking Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate” as well as several others from respected science education colleagues and children’s authors.

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Table of contents for my eBook, “Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate” available now and readable in most browsers: https://www.nsta.org/ebooks/GradesK-5/

The NSTA has gone a step further in supporting at home education efforts by providing a developing series of “Daily Do’s,” lessons outlines, pointers, and additional strategies for teachers and parents to use and construct meaningful experiences around both using the eBook and extending the learning into their home and surrounding, socially-distanced environment. Many of the resources support writing and verbal conversation around making sense of everyday phenomena. The Daily Do’s are available now, including the March 26th Daily Do connected to my currently free eBook!

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Empowering Student Empathy and Risk Taking through “The [Climate] Talk”

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Climate change is hard and I don’t just mean teaching the science behind the overwhelming data supporting its existence, or even executing solutions designed to reduce or limit its effect on our global systems. I mean talking about it, like really having a conversation about it and how it could or already is affecting us.

Fortunately, the good people at the Alliance for Climate Education or “ACE” have been putting together some outstanding resources on the website “Our Climate Our Future” to support students trying to do exactly that, have the hard conversations with their family, friends, even complete strangers. Their resources are tools I recently put to work at a pair of “21st Century Learning Days” being held at our local middle school.


Innovate Inside the Box is a follow up to Couros’ book “Innovator’s Mindset” which features “empathy and risk-taking” as two of the eight characteristics innovators embody.

The fabulousness of this resource comes in what it aims to achieve: empathy and risk-taking. Coincidentally, these are two attributes featured in George Couros and Katie Novak’s book, “Innovate Inside the Box” – a book I am currently reading as part of an online book study. ACE advocates and provide scaffolds for students to discuss their feelings about climate change and its effects, but does so in a refreshingly non-combative approach. Promoting the awkward but manageable acronym OARTAC, students are encouraged to gain the perspective and understanding of those they choose to have “the talk” with first through attentive listening and the asking of clarifying questions before sharing anything related to their own feelings and opinions. Built on psychological research (and 20+ years of limited gains through the still popular fact-minding, data-pointing approach  since the first release of An Inconvenient Truth) the scaffold and four-minute coaching video charges students not to force-change their counterparts opinion, but rather understand their perspective while using the opportunity to share their own.

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OARTAC is the bulky yet effective scaffold ACE promotes for students to engage in difficult (or dare I say risky?) conversations with others around climate change.

The formula empowers students to take risks not commonly taken by our communities and population as a whole. Collected statistics state that while 2/3rds of Americans are “moderately” or “very interested” in Climate Change, an equal percentage of Americans “rarely” or “never” discuss climate change with family and friends. Hard to imagine any change being made on a global initiative a significant majority never talk about. My Science Center partner, Wendy Pavlicek and I found the value of the conversation and supporting scaffold so great that we shared nearly the same presentation and exercise with the elementary science curriculum council.

Admittedly, students found the routine during the breakout session awkward and even uncomfortable. Not surprising as most still have more questions than any concrete answers when it comes to the when, why, and how of climate change, but that’s was ultimately the whole point of the exercise. Rather than have me spend 45 minutes to an hour sharing facts and merely answering questions ranging from earth systems science to fantastical doomsday scenarios, the time was spent empowering students with a easy to follow conversation routine that could be used for any variety of loaded conversations the students might be faced with in the future. (Talking about “The Talk” with middle school students… now thats taking risk!) The students were provided a tool to not only deepen their empathy toward those with differing opinions around them, but to take on the risk of opening a conversation fraught with political and personal landmines in a deliberate way that should ultimately lead to forging better understanding and relationships while keeping friends and family close.

I have shared the Google Slides presentation associated with this blog post here. You can also link directly to the Alliance for Climate Education here or their website “Our Climate Our Future” designed specifically for educators and students here.



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Weaving ‘Book Talks’ into Science, Weaving Science into ‘Book Talks’


Over the past several months I have been participating in a district-based book club centered on Pernille Ripp’s, “Passionate Readers: The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child.” The club has been facilitated by our literacy coach, Renee Sacco and has boosted my leisure-reading by 1000% while connecting me with several educators across the district whom I previously did not intersect with on a consistent basis.

Perhaps most importantly, the club has brought a heightened awareness in me around my role in encouraging passionate readers and supporting the educators who do this important work day-in and day-out. While I do not have a classroom where a library can draw in students, nor regularly connect enough with our students to know their personal reading-tastes, I can use the time I have in front of our students during my grade-level programs to heighten their awareness of one of our school’s most important resources, the library media commons!



Today marked my first step into this realm, leaning on the expert knowledge of Burlington librarians, Cathy Myer and Rachel Small. Hearing Pernille’s charge to “be a spokesperson for your classroom library” and that “most things can be adapted or squished in order to book talk a great book or show a new book trailer.” I shortened my “Superfish” aquarium preview for Kindergarteners to make time to point out several marine-based titles available at the Pine Glen and Memorial libraries. This required me to make a few cuts to the long-standing program, including my bit on mollusks at the touch-tank (… and can you guess which one is Mr. Musselman’s favorite?!) and a Horseshoe Crab skeleton that had seen better days.



Cathy Myer shows her Kindergarteners where to find all of her genre-fied “Ocean” titles in the Memorial LMC during my “Superfish” aquarium preview.


While Kathy was generously able to join us and share her favorites between the Shark and Octopus bit, I was on my own due to a scheduling conflict at Pine Glen. Luckily, Ms. Small has rolling, genre-fied bookshelves which made it easy for me to bring the entire collection to our Kindergarten while picking a handful to display and discuss!

The program went off without a hitch and the book talk was well received by teachers and students alike. I present this photo of smiling faces at the conclusion of our program as evidence!


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Smile for the Superfish!

A post shared by Burlington Science Center (@burlingtonsciencecenter) on


In the short term, I hope to bring more book talks into my programs, especially as I connect more titles with specific topics or segments that best align with the phenomena we commonly investigate. Looking longer term, connecting with more children’s books and our teachers’ desire to include them in their classroom routines is a goal of mine as I work with several elementary science coaches from the surrounding communities to develop a course supporting teachers understanding and awareness of the Crosscutting Concepts and their prevalence in children’s literature.



A working document outlining our goals is already taking shape and I’m hoping to have a meeting with my interested counterparts some time in the next few weeks to hammer out some of the details on how its going to work. We already received a boost from Michigan educator and general consultant for the Manistee Intermediate School District, Kim Rinehart, whose current work using the book “Sharing Books, Talking Science” by Valerie Bang-Jensen and Mark Lubkowitz she so generously shared freely with us. Safe to say this #NSTA20 session is going to be a must for me!



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Better Integrating “Keys to Literacy” Scaffolds and Strategies Across the Science Curriculum


Over the past several years our Burlington elementary educators have been inundated with changes. Besides the upending of our K-5 science and engineering curriculum classroom educators were introduced to “Keys to Literacy” a K-12 ranging program designed to boost student literacy skills through scaffolds and instructional strategies that build over time and can cross all disciplines. While initially this work was being done seemingly in parallel to the science overhaul, enough institutional knowledge around the “KTL” practices were able to be integrated into the units developed toward the end of our staged curriculum turnover.

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Google Slide “presentations” with links to copyable KTL scaffolds made by BPS teachers such as this one can be found in our grades 2, 3, and 5 curriculum resource pages.

Last week, we were graced with time and opportunity to face the reality of our disconnected work in the earlier units and allow teachers to adapt and revise some of our templates while developing exemplars of commonly used KTL scaffolds for their peers to lean on, saving them valuable prep time for scaffolds to use on their own so they might direct their attention instead to the host of other needs to meet.

Teachers spent their afternoon creating paper and digital versions of two-column notes, top-down webs, question/sorting activities, and more in an effort to lessen the collective burden of everyone and better reinforce the use of these strategies and (hopefully!) their students’ own synthesis and understanding of science’s “disciplinary core ideas.”

I’d like to take this time to thank the Grade 2, 3, and 5 teachers of Burlington for their dedication to this work and their craft. You’ll find links to all of their models shared publicly at the very top of our grade specific curriculum resource pages. While our Grade K, 1, and 4 teachers were tied up with other trainings, we hope to repeat this model and support their units in similar ways moving forward.

Direct links to the Grade 2, 3, and 5 KTL resource pages can be found below:

KTL Grade 2 Examples (Produced and shared by Burlington educators 11/2019)

KTL Grade 3 Examples (Produced and shared by Burlington educators 11/2019)

KTL Grade 5 Examples (Produced and shared by Burlington educators 11/2019)

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