What We Can Learn about Preschool

An article from 16 March 2011 by Dr. Alison Gopnik examined the rationale for re-thinking recent changes in preschool education. The findings she shared within the article, not to mention her conclusions, really are food for thought for all of preK-12 education. The conclusions she draws, based on two studies with young students?

Direct instruction really can limit young children’s learning. …it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions.

Put another way, from the article:

While learning from a teacher may help children get to a specific answer more quickly, it also makes them less likely to discover new information about a problem and to create a new and unexpected solution.

Gopnik cites a discovery by a computer learning expert who has suggested that before we can learn from teachers, we learn something about teachers. We understand they have authority with information, and they are very likely to tell us what we need to know. That assumption about the teacher’s role shuts down our motivation for the discovery of new information.


Gopnik is not anti-teacher, as she says “it’s more important than ever to give children’s remarkable, spontaneous learning abilities free reign.” The teacher’s role remains important, as “affectionate, supportive grown-ups” who can provide “lots of opportunities for exploration and play.” In words I have echoed, it sounds like she is calling for inquiry and support for engagement from teachers, or a “student-centered” classroom.

Name That Robot Contest

Welcome back, Roadrunners!

This year, learning at Randolph is OUT OF THIS WORLD!  You will probably notice all sorts of space-themed bulletin boards and displays in the hallways.

One of the new additions to the Library-Media Center is this Research Robot. He’s still under construction, but I wanted to post a photo of him so that he could be introduced to all of you.  Each week, the Research Robot will ask a question and students will have until Friday to find the answer.  All completed entries will be placed into the Research Robot’s mouth.  Correct answers will be placed into a random drawing for a prize!


But…this poor robot does not have a name yet!  Can you think of something catchy?  If so, please write the name you would like to suggest for the Research Robot (it should start with the letter R), your first and last name, and your grade level on a piece of paper.  Place your entry in the robot’s mouth.  Then I will go through the name suggestions and will give a prize to the person who suggests the name we use!  All entries for the NAME THAT ROBOT CONTEST are due on Friday, August 29.

Virtual Career Fair

Over the last two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to team up with a great group of teachers at Byrd Elementary School to help students learn about various career fields.   The school counselor, Mrs. Albert, initially developed this project.  She collaborated with the 4th grade team (Ms. Singh and Mrs. Johnston) to integrate the project across the curriculum.  Students spent time during guidance lessons to learn about their strengths in the multiple intelligences and to research career fields of interest.  Then teachers supported the students in writing class to further research careers of interest, and to create scripts for the final piece of the project.  The scripts included information about students’ current interests, a potential future career, and what the students need to do to prepare to work in the chosen field.

Finally, students used Voki to create messages to their future selves.  On the Voki site students created an avatar, and then recorded a reading of the script they wrote in writing class (using Google Docs).



You can read more about this project on a page Mrs. Albert created.  You can also view the virtual career fair.


It was obvious during this project that the students were engaged and enjoying learning!

Collaborative Writing Project – the eBook is Finished!

Over the last few weeks, students in Goochland County have been working on an exciting collaborative writing project.  Students in Mrs. Demas’s 4th grade class at GES and students in Ms. Gill’s 5th grade class at RES worked together in a virtual environment to research and write biographies about historical figures, found in our Virginia SOL’s.


The planning process began over one of our many snow days earlier this winter (literally, we met at Panera to plan out the details)!  Mrs. Demas and Ms. Gill wanted students to work on a nonfiction-writing piece that involved a bit of research.  They also wanted students to focus on the editing and revision aspects of writing.  With the writing SOL test right around the corner, we couldn’t think of a more authentic way to get the students writing for a real audience and critically analyzing their own work as well as others.


The teachers assigned partners and provided students with guidelines and a rubric, but the students used Google Docs to communicate with their partners and complete the work involved with this project.  To start with, students wrote autobiographies to introduce themselves to their partners.  Next, students wrote persuasive letters to each other to convince one another to write about a specific historical figure.  Finally, the collaborative research began.  Partner pairs had to decide who would collect specific pieces of information.  Students began writing, and shared their work with one another.  During the writing process, students often left each other “glows” and “grows” to improve their shared writing piece.  The comment feature of Google Docs make it easy to share thoughts.  Students realized that it is a challenge to combine writing styles to make one cohesive paper.  They had to reorder each other’s work so that the essay could flow from one topic to another in an appropriate sequence.  Teachers enjoyed watching the students engage in an extremely active revision and editing process.


The teachers and I were impressed with the end result!  You can check out the students’ book on Google Docs here (if you do not have an e-reader), or the eBook here (if you are using a mobile device).

Student Learning Slam – Collaborative Writing

Students in Mrs. Dema’s 4th grade class at Goochland Elementary School have been hard at work on a collaborative research and writing project with Ms. Gill’s 5th grade class at Randolph Elementary School.  Listen to Kylie in our Student Learning Slam as she describes how she uses Google Docs to communicate with her partner, share research, and revise each other’s writing.


From this project students learned a lot about communication from afar, and the need to clarify when communicating with others digitally.  Students also had the opportunity to practice constructive critiquing techniques as they revised their partner’s writing.  In addition, students learned more about American history as they spent time delving into research!  Within the writing projects students tried to focus on three elements:  1)  writing good hooks/leads; 2)  focusing on one main idea in a paragraph; 3)  organization of information in a research paper.



Steps to complete this project:

1)  Teachers assigned students partners, and partners shared autobiographies to get to know each other better.

2)  Students in Mrs. Dema’s class choose a historical figure to write about from a list that was shown to the class.  They had to write a persuasive letter to their partner to convince him/her to use the selected person as their research focus.

3)  Writing partners selected specific topics they would research and write about.

4)  Writing partners shared a document in which they collected research, and began their writing.

5)  Students helped to revise each other’s writing and organize the research paper.

6)  Projects will be compiled into an ebook for all students to enjoy!

The Science of Snowflakes

This week, students in grades 3-5 are beginning a unit to explore the science of snowflakes.

We are reading Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin to learn more about the life of Wilson Bentley.

After the story, we are watching a BrainPOP video that explains how snowflakes are formed.  Research about the science of snowflakes will continue during Library classes throughout December and January.


Click here to make your own virtual snowflake!

4th Grade Animal Adaptations Project

Today 4th graders will begin a new research project.  First, they will choose a one of many global climate zones.  Students will use the Interactive Map on National Geographic to choose the climate zone, and a specific location within the climate zone to gather data.  Next, students will track specific weather data in a Google spreadsheet over an extended period.  Then students will research the climate, topography, and vegetation of the area in a Google doc.  Students will also research an animal native to the region.  They will use the information and data they collect to help explain certain behavioral and structural adaptations of the animal.  Finally, students will create a fictional animal that could also survive in the area.  The fictional animal must have behavioral and structural adaptations to survive in the researched climate zone.  Students will learn about elements of nonfiction writing, and will produce a written report about either the real or fictional animal.  The report will describe behavioral and structural adaptations of the fictional animal that help it to survive given the climate, weather, topography, and vegetation of the area.


This image shows the climate zones students will choose from using the interactive map.

Monster Research

Fifth grade students are working on a research unit about MONSTERS!

They must choose a legendary “monster” or mythological creature from a pre-selected list.  Then fifth graders will use at least three reference sources of information.

Monster facts include:

  • Legend/Origin
  • Personality
  • Physical Description
  • Special Abilities
  • Habitat
  • Weaknesses
  • Strengths
  • Good or Bad Guy?
  • Enemies/Friends
  • Life Span (How old or when it lived.)
  • Descriptor Words
  • Character Traits
  • Where are they from? Book or story?
  • Food
  • Favorite Facts

Click here to visit Rick Riordan’s Camp Half-Blood website and learn more about some of the mythological creatures mentioned in the Percy Jackson books.

Click here to go to the Grolier Online website to research monsters on online encyclopedias.

WILD for Giraffes (and Lions, too)

Students in Kindergarten, 1st & 2nd grade have been learning about some WILD animals during Library time the past few weeks.

During the first week of Library classes, we read one of my favorite books, Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen.  This story taught about the importance of following the rules in the Library.  It also gave our little ones the chance to ROAR a few times, which they loved!

The second week, we participated in an interactive reading adventure using the Wild About Books app for the iPad.   We had a lot of fun listening to the story and interacting with the pages.  Plus, students learned about bookmobiles and reading for fun!

This week, we received a shipment of NEW books and decided to continue with our wild animal theme by reading When Lulu Went to the Zoo by Andy Ellis.  In this story, a little girl named Lulu attempted to help the animals in the zoo find an improved place to live.  The 1st graders were especially excited to read this story because they are going on a field trip to the Metro Richmond Zoo in a few weeks.  When they return, I’ll be asking them to compare the zoo in the story with the one they visited.

After listening to the story, Kindergarten & 1st graders created some pretty amazing giraffes for the Library bulletin board.

Second graders visited research stations, complete with nonfiction books about giraffes, giraffes fact sheets, and laptops connected to the National Geographic Kids webpage to learn facts about giraffes.  Each student at the station was responsible for writing one new thing that they learned about giraffes.  These facts will be added to the bulletin board next week.

Second graders worked together to learn facts about giraffes.

Here are a few things that we discovered.

Did you know that…

  • Giraffes are the tallest animals in the world.
  • A young giraffe is called a calf.
  • A giraffe’s tongue can be up to 21 inches long.
  • Giraffes can go weeks without drinking water.
  • A newborn giraffe is about 6 feet tall.

Each giraffe’s face has its own individual personality! Priceless!


Photo Booth Green Screen

Ms. Johnson’s students will be creating videos to share their findings about artists and art. This is a tutorial I made a long time ago for elementary teachers, but I think it will work great for what this group of students is planning to do.

Ms. Johnson has had her students work on some amazing projects this year, and she shares really cool stuff on her blog. Videos are a new adventure for her, and I’m happy to be planning this with her.

 The finished products will be published to Ms. Johnson’s YouTube channel. Look for an update soon.


5th Grade: Researching Famous Scientists

Fifth grade students:

  • Login to the laptop under your name, not student-student.
  • Choose a famous scientist from the Famous Scientisits website.
  • Click on the links to learn more about the scientist you chose OR go to the Grolier Online database.
  • Write important facts about the scientist on the graphic organizer provided to you in class.
  • Be sure to cite your sources!
  • Some of the completed fact cards will be displayed on the “Story Laboratory” book fair bulletin board during the month of February.

The STORY LABORATORY book fair begins on February 20th!


Armadillo Research Project

The second grade students are working on animal research projects in their science classes.  In the library, they will be learning some useful research skills as we work on a group project to learn more about armadillos.

Why armadillos?  We were inspired to learn more about armadillos after reading Jan Brett’s book, Armadillo Rodeo.  In that story, we learned that armadillos have poor eyesight and can curl into a ball to protect themselves.  Students had many other questions about this animal and we’re hoping that our research project will help to answer them.

Students:  Click on the following links to complete your research project.

  • National Geographic: Armadillos


  • Animal Planet: Armadillo


  • Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo: Armadillo (YouTube video)


  • San Diego Zoo’s Animal Bytes: Armadillo


  • Armadillo: Encyclopedia Britannica Kids


  • The Cat in the Hat’s Fish Facts: Armadillo