S’now Fun?

Schools canceling. Parents working from home.  If you’re counting on plenty of babysitting via TV or video games to keep your children busy, stop! That “s’now” fun.  Read on for 10 ideas for real snow day fun and learning.????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  1. Read.Snuggle with a book and read with a family member. Talk about the book together as you go. Find new places in which to read, like the bathtub.
  2. Bake. Reinforce math by doubling or halving a recipe. Make something to share with a neighbor or friend.
  3. Fall. Backwards, that is, into snow. Make snow angels and decorate them with paint.
  4. Build. Dress for outdoors and build snow families and snow forts.
  5. Knock. Check on your neighbors, especially senior citizens. Bring them a treat you made.IMG_3579
  6. Shovel. Help move the stuff around. If you don’t have a shovel, use a broom.
  7. Imagine. Encourage open-ended play. Dolls, cars, models, Legos, anything with small people or animals work well. When a child uses anything to pretend or make up stories, that’ open-ended play.
  8. Measure. Find all measuring tapes, rulers, yardsticks, even a dressmaker’s measuring tape if you have one. Estimate the measurement of things around the house, then check using one of the tools.
  9. Draw. Can you draw a map of your house? Your neighborhood, town, state, the world? Copy one if you need to.
  10. Write. Compose a valentine poem or a card message for Valentine’s Day.

Print and post this list for your children to use.  Join them for some of these so snow days become memory-making days.

HONK! It to The World

IMG_3162What issues in our world fill you with passion?

Perhaps you’re working to gain freedom for the children in Tibet. Maybe fracking issues make you crazy or you are a member of Veterans for Peace. Or your focus might be more local, like saving a silver maple forest in a cherished reservation.

IMG_3146Do you care enough to grab your tuba or push yourself down the street with a couple of plungers?
Because that’s what people did at the 2014 HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands in Somerville and Cambridge, MA. The parade mixed zeal with fun and educated the spectators, providing welcome relief from the litany of terrible world problems in the news. Not that the HONK! groups didn’t make their points. They did. And they used larger-than-life sized puppets and funky costumes to do it.

Making the usual, unusual gives messages a fresh emphasis.  Everyone in this parade found a personal and artistic perspective in community with others.  That’s a valuable set of life lessons  for all of us, accompanied by a dash of AfroBrazilian percussion.IMG_3176

I love to see parents and grandparents teaching children how to help change a larger world than their own. When learning starts in the family, it settles into childrens’ souls. And when it’s lodged there, you’ve given children tools that no one else but you can give. Add in some glitter and an orange feather boa–who knew that changing the world could be so much fun?IMG_3109







Ravens and Science: Now or Nevermore?

What makes a science field trip a Do Now for your students? When two ravens are hatching eggs in a few days at Wellesley College.

Go to the Ravencam and leave your computer screen on all day to follow the nesting habits of Pauline and Henry. You’ve just created a field trip in your classroom. The pleasure of doing this will remind everyone you teach that science is part of every day. The raven sounds alone fill me with awe.

Use the following ideas, for all ages, singly or in combination:

  • Individualized Learning 

Observe these birds and notice how calm and focused you become. Then show students how to immerse themselves in watching and listening. This is active, not passive, learning and embodies all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Give your students the gift of time so they can experience what learning feels like when their bodies and minds relax.

  • Student Inquiry

After a period of observation, ask students to write down observations in their science journals. Ask students to turn their statements into questions and choose one or more questions to guide data collecting and research. It’s a perfect short-term inquiry project to travel back and forth from home to school.

  • Mathematics

Create focused discussion opportunities for student brainstorming. What kind of math skills will help them understand these ravens, and why? What kind of data collection–either qualitative or quantitative–leads to the answers they need?

  • English Language Arts

Many of us remember Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven” (1845). Follow this link to the Poetry Foundation to get a copy. After reading the poem aloud and learning more about Poe, have students perform readings of “The Raven” that reveal their own understanding of the poem. Encourage alternative versions. For example, does a joyful version of “The Raven” change its meaning?

While writing this, it hasn’t been just the ravens’ croaks and calls that fill me with awe. Pauline does, too, as she shifts position on her huge twiggy nest to reposition her eggs.

This is what a celebration of learning feels like, doesn’t it?

Kathleen Nollet


That Good News

Want to know the best way to involve parents?  Send home good news about their child before the first week is out.

And there’s no better way than to have students write it themselves.  With writing now taught across the curriculum, every teacher can do it. Even if you only have fifteen minutes, it’s time well spent:

  1. 3 min.  Create a writing rubric.  What do your students think matters in a quality letter home?  Find out what they know and evaluate what they need to know.  Keep it simple–it doesn’t need to be a forever rubric.
  2. 2 min.  Speed-brainstorm 2 lists of topics.  What new learning did students accomplish?  Looking forward, what goals do they want to work on?  Keep new learning and goals specific.
  3. 10 min.  Students write.  Make copies to keep on file OR ask parents to sign and return them.  

Afterward, send an email home to let parents know that good news is on its way!

The benefits?  Your first message home is student-generated, positive and specific.  Parents become involved in the conversation about their child.  Also, this lesson is naturally differentiated.  Students practice using rubrics, noting what they do well, and setting goals.  You wind up with the best kind of writing assessment piece–one that is organic and personal.

For students’ inspiration or reward, listen to Sam Cooke’s fabulous song Ain’t That Good News on American Bandstand in 1964.  The song is about two and a half minutes;  in the interview afterwards, he tells Dick Clark that he uses “observation…to observe what’s going on…to write something that people will understand.”

It worked for his songs and it’ll work for your students.



            What does this word bring to mind for you?  A cold, refreshing drink .…perhaps memories of diving into a favorite green-blue lake in the mountains…or a chemical substance necessary to sustaining life around the world?

            How about a moment that changed the life of a student?

            You know the story of how teacher Annie Sullivan persisted with her student, Helen Keller,  by pumping a gush of water over her hand while finger spelling “water.”  When Helen made the connection, Annie wrote later that day, “a new light came into her face…she was highly excited…in a few hours she had added thirty new words to her vocabulary”  (Herrman, 1998).

             This profound “w-a-t-e-r” moment in the life of a student is what we teachers strive for.  It’s part of why we choose to teach:  we want to make a difference in the lives of our students.  We want to change their worlds by opening up new possibilities of thought, seeing, feeling, listening, and doing.  We want to teach them perseverance as we persevere along with them.  We want to ignite their curiosity to increase their motivation to learn.  And our job is to create these w-a-t-e-r moments so they will discover the joy of learning.

              At the water pump, Annie Sullivan unlocked the world of language and learning for Helen, and that’s what you’ll be doing with your students this semester as you teach biology, calculus, reading, social studies, Spanish, writing, math, literature, art, and wellness.  As you begin to design your classes for students, keep this in mind:  What kind of experiences can you create to help students discover learning and make it their own?  What can students touch, feel, build, manipulate, draw, invent, create, move, construct, show, present, demonstrate, do

               Build these experiences into lessons every day and you’ll move your students closer to w-a-t-e-r moments.  Watch for the “new light that came into her face”—that incredible reward of teaching, seeing when the student understands.  We teachers set the stage for these moments through our training, dedication, and perseverance.

                What w-a-t-e-r moments have you experienced?  How did they happen?  What did they feel like for you?  What new light of understanding came on for you and your student?



Herrmann, D. (1999). Helen Keller: A life. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. 


For educators, fall really feels like spring.  A fresh year, a new class, brand-new students: all of these embody new beginnings and the opportunity to grow.  My growth during this season, though, often begins with a search.

Whenever possible, I scan my yard and local fields for milkweed.  If I see a patch, I examine the leaves for monarch butterfly caterpillars so I can capture a few, put them in a jar with milkweed leaves, and prepare to witness a miracle.

Who taught me how to do this?  One of my fourth grade students.

One first day of school, Stefan brought in a Mason jar stuffed with milkweed and placed it carefully on his desk.  He announced that a monarch caterpillar was inside and he was going to watch it metamorphose into a butterfly over the next two weeks.

I was enchanted!  Here was a student with curiosity, an interest in science, and the confidence to place a jar on his desk on the first day of school.  Without knowing it, he led the class and me into a frenzy of learning about monarchs, learning that spilled over effortlessly into evenings and weekends.

Together, the students and I researched monarchs and learned geography alongside new science vocabulary.  We read books about them, sharing our favorites back and forth.  We discussed what we learned and wrote essays and poems. We raced into school every day to examine the monarch for changes, learning patience and developing the deep understanding that comes from observation.  We drew diagrams showing the stages of metamorphosis, carefully coloring in the proper colors of each step.

When the great day came, we watched the monarch emerge from its chrysalis and take its time drying its wings.  It was a breathtaking moment.  We let it sit on our hands, feeling the peculiar touch of its legs.  Stefan opened the outside classroom door and placed the monarch butterfly on a plant in the sun.

The monarch wasn’t the only creature with a metamorphosis.  I realized in a new, powerful way that by embracing students’ interests–and letting a fourth grader have a caterpillar jar on his desk–that this was an eloquent way to put student learning first.

Thank you, Stefan.

Kathleen M. Nollet, Ph.D.