Tag Archives: Proctor Elementary School

Scaffolding students with Padlet and Flipgrid

Collaboration is not just fun for students, it’s also a crucial skill they will need to be successful in life. Yet with our need to stay home these days, students are desperately missing the social connections a classroom provides, and many are seeking other channels to maintain these connections.

We know our students thrive when they can connect socially with each other. Yet we are all still figuring out how to help them work together safely, effectively, and most of all in a way that meets their needs for fun.

Good news! Properly scaffolded, we can continue to foster opportunities for our students to connect and create meaningful work together.

#BetterTogether: Padlet & Flipgrid

Heidi Ringer, a 6th-grade teacher at Warren Elementary, searched for ways to support student collaboration in this remote learning environment. She chose to invite students into a collaborative Padlet board. And, planned intentionally to start with something familiar to introduce them to the tool.

Learning how to use Padlet

“Students created a One Pager as a culminating activity for their independent reading book. They posted the One Pager and then students commented on their work. This was the first attempt at commenting as a way to collaborate. Students are learning to use the same guidelines they use for peer conference in writing. It was a great way to present students’ work and gather comments. Finally, they are reflecting on the kind of feedback they received and what that told them about their work.”

The importance of scaffolding collaboration

Next, Heidi launched a Discussion Questions Padlet. Students had four questions about the class novel and jotted down an idea for each question. Later, they used their notes in actual virtual discussions.
Tips for peer feedback

Often students need help knowing how to comment effectively on others’ work in shared spaces. Here are some prompts from Kathy King-Dickman from her post Mini-lessons that Support Effective Bookclubs:

  • Using Center for the Collaborative Classroom prompts “I agree with______ because…., I disagree with _____ because…, or I agree, but I would like to add….”
  • Questioning another’s ideas or thinking: use prompts such as “Why are you thinking…, Can you explain why you think…, Where in the novel did you find that…?”

Taking it to the next level with Padlet: Literature Circles & Project Planning

Finally, now that her students have experienced collaborating via Padlet, Heidi is planning Padlet-based Literature Circle Discussions. This collaborative discussion process, with the very clear roles and tasks, can take place asynchronously, especially when students have had experience using the tool. Lee Araoz’s Lightning Thief padlet will give you a good idea of Literature Circle Roles in practice.
Another great way to use Padlet for asynchronous collaboration is project planning. Rachelle Dene Poth shares this idea:

“Taking all of these themes into consideration, I decided that one student in Spanish IV would be the ‘Team leader,’ and their ‘mission’ would be finding a job and moving to a Spanish speaking country. They had to create a collaborative space, could be using Padlet or Google Slides or another format, and share it with the their ‘team.’ Team leaders had to write a list of requirements to their “Travel Agent,” “Community Specialist” and “Realtor” (students from Spanish I, II, and III) to let them know their travel needs and preferences for moving abroad. The team members would use this information to plan the travel, a tour of the new neighborhood, and find a house.” Tips and Tools to Encourage Classroom Participation

Asynchronous video exchanges for collaborative remote learning with Flipgrid

We’ve written about Flipgrid before and are big fans because of the way it creates a virtual video-driven discussion space. Consider the asynchronous possibilities for your students; they can video record their responses to a prompt and then engage in a threaded video commenting stream.

An easy entry point to scaffold a Flipgrid experience for students is to ask a fairly straightforward question and give students a short time span in which to answer. Here’s an example of the folks at Tarrant Institute sharing one quick idea for a back-to-school get-to-know-you activity.

Courtney Elliot, a teacher at Proctor Elementary, starts her daily communications with her students making good use of Flipgrid for asynchronous collaboration. This week’s prompt: Tell us about a book you are reading!


In addition, Courtney uses Flipgrid video responses for Number Talks. Students post an answer to a math question and then respond to each other, just like they did when together in their classroom. Check out how she does it here.


Kick it up a notch

Once students are familiar with the post and response routine in Flipgrid, you can bump up the level of collaboration. Just like how Literature Circles can be run using Padlet, Flipgrid also provides a similar collaborative space. Lee Araoz describes in her post how to set up Flipgrid for Literature Circles. The prompt: state your name, your book title & chapter, the name of the Literature Circle job you are discussing, and what you did. Simple as that. But so powerful when students can see and hear each other from a distance as they collaboratively share.

Matthew Frattali, a middle school teacher who advocates for using Flipgrid with students to teach the Sustainable Development Goals advises “Asynchronous video is training wheels for synchronous video, which in turn is training wheels for video production and citizen journalism.” Think of the possibilities!

Updates to Flipgrid now include the ability for educators and learners to record their screen right inside a Flipgrid video post. That’s right!

Now it’s your turn:

How are you facilitating student-to-student collaboration in a virtual environment?

Bonus material

Finally, don’t forget that Morning Meeting is a powerful way for students to connect socially – with you and each other – during these days apart. Just like Courtney, you could run Morning Meeting asynchronously using Flipgrid. This post has some great ideas for connecting with each other, and you may even want to consider doing a morning meeting with your housemates as well!

However you go about it, let’s keep maintaining those connections that sustain us!

Courtney Elliott’s Bright Spots and Belly Flops


Students in Courtney Elliott’s class work on a Mystery Skype with a class in Wisconsin to demonstrate communication skills and content knowledge of the U.S regions.

Inquiry question about personalized learning:  How might personalization through self-reflection, self-assessment, and flexible grouping and scheduling across grades 3 and 4 at Proctor Elementary School positively impact student engagement and achievement?

Bright Spot: Some days I feel like I am a rock star educator; other days I feel like a complete mess. And through this journey I am learning that it is not only possible but okay to be both.

This journey over the last three years to a student-centered, fully differentiated classroom has been quite the ride. It started with project based learning and a creative group of 4th and 5th graders and has led to here, where we are now with a group of fourth graders who are learning so many life skills through this model.

This leads us to the bright spots… those days when I feel like a rockstar educator. These moments come from my students and their ability to work in ways that I could never have dreamed of when they first walked through that fourth grade door in September. This year we have focused on helping our third and fourth graders to make choices about what they need to be successful in their learning through helping them to evaluate where they are and what they need.

This model ties in well with the idea of universal design: the idea that all children can be successful in the  general education classroom by providing access points for every child’s entry into the grade level curriculum no matter where they are. Simply stated, meeting each child where he or she is at this point in their learning.

Last year, my class was visited by representatives from an inclusive classroom program. Turns out we were selected with two other schools in Vermont to serve as an inclusion model. This fall, my classroom was chosen as a model for inclusive design. This has been my passion since I started teaching and this was a bright spot in my journey. That this student-centered model, where third and fourth grade share students based on need and proficiency skills, has helped to foster and create an inclusive classroom for all students.

Belly Flop: Now for that belly flop or that dilemma that I feel like I am facing moving forward…those days I feel like a hot mess educator. Those days I go home wondering if in the long run I am failing my students.

What happens when eventually these students are placed in classrooms that fit the more traditional boxes?

What happens when the only access point for them in the classroom is a one size fits all curriculum for all students?

I worry about if what I am doing is best preparing my students. I worry that if having them work at their own level at the skill and not teaching to a program will hurt them in the long run. For example, will allowing students to make choices to guide their own learning affect them in a traditional classroom setting because they will not be able to be at their pace?Yes, on their benchmark assessments they may move from a first grade math level to a third grade math level but what happens when they are expected to complete a fifth grade math curriculum?  I worry about if by allowing them to make choices in the classroom based on need they are not learning what they will need to prepare for future endeavors in education.

So in conclusion, I feel like I am in a place of limbo with my classroom environment and pedagogy. I know in my heart that this learning is right for my kids. I see the progress in the benchmark data and their joy and engagement with learning on a daily basis. For example, Corey and I have had several conversations with students around their learning and what helps them learn best.

The data collected from these meetings or check ins is that they enjoy choice and setting goals. They feel comfortable working at their own pace and seeing where they are in their learning of the skill through the use of checklists and rubrics. They like to feel empowered and like they are in charge.

Corey and I hope to create a student engagement survey after break to further highlight what the students have said in these classroom discussions. Still, I have those days where I just wonder that once they leave my classroom and continue on their educational journey that I have made the road harder for them in some way. It’s a lot to think about, but aIl I know is my heart tells me that I am  doing the right thing. I just need to remember that.

Corey Smith’s Bright Spot Belly Flops


Inquiry Question: How might personalization through self-reflection, self-assessment, and flexible grouping and scheduling across grades 3 and 4 at Proctor Elementary School positively impact student engagement and achievement?

After our overnight retreat with my Learning Lab colleagues and some discussion about the fear of sharing our work when it doesn’t produce the results we hoped for, I did a lot of reflecting.  I started thinking about my own practice with my students and how I spend the first six weeks the whole year preaching to them about growth mindset.  I started wondering, how many of us talk to our students, or dare I suggest lecture them, on the importance of those moments of mistake or failure?  How many of use make sure our students know that without those mistakes, learning would never happen? How many of us ask our students to share with the class the mistakes they have made because those mistakes are so incredibly awesome that the entire class benefits from them?

If you are anything like me, you are excitedly waving your hand in the air, perhaps bouncing out of your seat because you do all of that and perhaps more. Why do we do this? Because our students’ mistakes are often the most important part of their learning. Mistakes in my classroom are what run our lessons and drive conversations and collaboration.  Now, how many of us, as educators, put our mistakes out there for other educators to learn from? If you are anything like me, you have quickly put your hand down and are avoiding any and all eye contact with other people.

I think the consensus around the school building is that I have it all figured out.  From the outside looking in, my classroom looks great. I am constantly researching and finding new ideas and my students are always willing to jump in and try it out.  I get to go to some great conferences that focus on all those buzzwords in education right now. I am presenting at district in-services and conferences around the state with my amazing 4th grade partner.  Like I said, it looks great.

The reality is much different, though not a bad different.  It takes an incredible amount of work for it to look like my students and I have it all figured out. The truth is, I have failed so many times in what I have done before I have found one thing that works. And sometimes, it never works.  So why do my colleagues have this false picture of what goes on in my room? I think the answer is because I, like all of us, want to put my best work out there for the world to see. I want people to see my successes, my breakthroughs, my ‘aha’ moments.

I don’t fully put myself out there, but I think that needs to change. The world needs to see the messy, the oops moments, the moment I have my head in my hands wondering where it all went wrong because it happens. Boy, does it happen.

Belly FlopsEpic Fails

We call them epic fails in 3rd and 4th grade.  Why? Because our failures are what drive our learning.  Learning can’t happen without them. And of course, any time you decide something is epic, it is just that much more awesome and important.  I want my students to know that their failures are something to be proud of because they will learn from them.

My journey of student-centered learning and personalization started last year before I joined Learning Lab.  Throughout this journey, I have epically failed so many times, I can’t count. It would not be uncommon for you to walk into my classroom and find my class sitting in a circle problem solving where we went wrong.  I will tell you though, that 3rd graders are incredible problem solvers and our epic fails usually lead to some sort of amazing breakthrough.

My goal this year has been to create a system that allows my students to self assess, self reflect, and then drive their instruction through Choice Menus based on their assessment and reflection.  The problem is that 3rd graders don’t know how to reflect. No problem. I created incredibly clear and specific rubrics for them to use while reflecting on their assessments. Most of the students are able to successfully use the rubrics, but when it comes time to choose their level of learning for their Choice Menu, they have no idea if they are a Seeker (beginning), Explorer (approaching), Trailblazer (meeting), or Guide (exceeding).

There seems to be this disconnect between assessments, reflection, and driving their learning. I have wondered if I am expecting too much of them. They are 3rd graders after all and I am expecting them to do what middle school teachers expect?

3rd grade student completing a self assessment on multi-digit addition.

Bright Spots

I decided that I was not expecting too much of my students.  They are 3rd graders after all and they are capable of so many incredible things.

The first half of the year was spent trying to figure out where I went wrong with the assessments, the reflections, and the Choice Boards.  And okay, it turns out I was expecting too much of them because I expected them to fill out their self reflection and REMEMBER from day to day what level they were performing at.  Honestly, I am not sure I could remember if I was in their shoes.

I needed to find a way to help them connect their assessments and reflections to the actual work that they needed to do to progress through their learning. It turns out that the solution was simple.  I created badges for my students, tangible badges that they could proudly display and remind them of where they are working.

Seeker (beginning) badge that students can attach to their pencil pouch so they know what they should be working to accomplish.

This has probably been the most positive and engaging thing I have introduced to my students this year.  They are excited about the badges. When working on rounding skills, students were on task during independent time because they wanted to trade their Seeker badge in for an Explorer badge.  Students were starting to request assessments more frequently and their self reflections were an accurate representation of where they were working. One small success but it feels momentous.

Epic Fails

My first attempt at a self assessment and self reflection rubric. It needed a bit of work!

Back to the failures.  One small success does not mean the year is over and I am done.  So where to now? While the badging is a great way to help students connect assessments, reflection, and independent work, I cannot keep up with them.  Creating this system for rounding was easy because it is a small concept in a year where so much is expected of them. I worry that I will not be able to keep up the pace of creating enough assessments for them to continually check their learning.  I worry that I will not be able to find enough resources for the Choice Menus to allow them to be independent. I worry that because I am creating such a tailored experience for them, that I am not covering all the material presented in the canned program that we use, and it will affect them in the long run, especially as they get ready to take SBACs for the first time.

I also feel like I am at a stand still with our Learning Lab team.  We were all gungho at the start of the year but it has since died down.  Our students are not engaged in what we are doing and that bothers me. I am hoping that after the winter break, Courtney and I will be able to sit down and redesign our Tuesday lunches with our Learning Lab team and involve the students more.

Bright spots, belly flops, epic fails.  Regardless of which category my work has fallen into this year, it has been beneficial for both myself and my students.  I am excited to see where the year goes from here.

3 ways to use virtual bulletin boards

Padlet, Google Keep and Corkulous — oh my!


Padlet’s been a go-to for a number of our educators for a while now, based on both its easy drag-and-drop interface and the ability to add photos and video to individual boards. We’ve seen it used

Corey Smith, at Proctor Elementary School, uses Padlet to organize roles and responsibilities in group work. Check out how she organized this Padlet board so that students can clearly see and reference the responsibilities that go along with each role.

Made with Padlet

Additional resources:

2. Google Keep

For Google schools, Google Keep can be invaluable as a collaborative project management tool. Each Google account automatically has access to a virtual space where they can create post-its for data management. These post-its can be shared with other Google users, can include HTML and links, as well as images and — get this –drawings!


3. Corkulous

Meet Corkulous: a free iOS app and browser-based corkboard tool.

Sixth grade educator Joe Speers is using the tool for vocabulary development. The drag-and-drop format allows students to create one post on the board showing the word itself and a definition. Next they can bring in a picture that illustrates the definition of the word and physically link them together.


How do you use virtual bulletin boards with your students?


Setting behavioral expectations in a makerspace


2 ways to bring in transferable skills

makerspaces and project-based learningMakerspaces are amazing. They’re a big carnival of lights and sounds and glue and lasers, arduinos, controllers and 3D, oh my. They’re a beloved opportunity for students to get hands-on with their learning, a place where they can get up out of theirs seats and go make all the wondrous machines and capers in their imaginations come to life.

And that makes them both shiny possibilities and potential pitfalls.

Just like the proverbial kid in a candy store, students in a makerspace need guidance and boundaries, so no one gives themselves an upset stomach from eating all the papercrafts.

(You know what I mean).

Giving students boundaries and setting up behavioral expectations for using the makerspace not only keeps students safe, it empowers them in developing self-direction and agency. So here are two strategies I’ve seen work in setting behavioral expectations in a makerspace.

1. Project Roles

Group work can feel a little awkward in the middle grades, as everyone brims with ideas but no one knows what exactly to do with their hands. Introducing roles for project work gives students specific direction for how to contribute effectively.

One educator I know created specific well-defined roles for groups as they undertook project-based learning. There were roles such as:

  • Project Lead
  • Note-taker
  • Norms-checker
  • Documentary Filmmaker

The responsibilities of each role were clearly laid out in rubrics made available via Google Docs. And each time a new project began, students were encouraged to take on a different role from their previous one.

But even before determining project roles:

I would have the class come up with a list of guidelines they should follow when working collaboratively, as well as some behavior expectation regarding working in the makerspace.

setting behavioral expectations in a makerspace

More about Team Roles

Here’s a Padlet Proctor Elementary School’s Courtney Smith created regarding the team roles. Sometimes there are groups of just three, but I wouldn’t do more than four per group though. This one has four roles, but I think that Task Manager and Recorder/Reporter can be combined.

Made with Padlet


2. Project Planning & Review

Another educator produced project planning documents that students filled out before jumping into the hands-on portion of making. Students wrote about:

  • what they hoped to build;
  • which materials they needed;
  • the steps they were planning to take, and
  • how they would know their project was successful.

The planning rubrics were again given to students as Google Docs, and they turned their finished drafts in to the educator as part of their Google Classroom work. The educator, in turn, reviewed each plan and provided valuable feedback, as well as encouraging students to examine additional considerations. As students worked through the making process, they had that planning rubric — a type of contract between maker and educator — to refer to for guidance.

This approach had the added bonus of giving students who had completed a round of projects the opportunity to provide guidance to new makers, based on their experience.

Check out this document for how we approached the first couple of days with 7th and 8th graders in a Genius block.

setting behavioral expectations in a makerspace


How have you set behavioral expectations in your makerspace?

6 ways teachers are using Padlet

Virtual bulletin boards to go!

Tarrant Institute tool tutoriallsStaying organized as a teacher can be a major challenge. Between student work, teacher plans, sticky notes, school supplies it’s easy to get buried and overwhelmed! This can especially be hard in a personalized learning environment, where students are often working at different paces, with different resources.
But whether you’re leading project-based learning, genius hours, or makerspaces, Padlet is a great online tool for teachers. Think: organized digital sticky notes in a colorful, shareable fashion.

Continue reading 6 ways teachers are using Padlet

What flexible seating looks like in action

Physical aspects of a student-centered classroom

flexible classroomsSometimes what seems like a little change can make a big difference. That’s what two Proctor Elementary School teachers recently confirmed when they decided to incorporate flexible seating into their classrooms.

It’s been such a success that now every classroom in their school features some sort of flexible seating options for students.

Continue reading What flexible seating looks like in action

How making supports integrative and informed thinking

Makerspace learning at Proctor Elementary

makerspaces and project-based learningIn this final post of our series on how maker-centered learning can help students develop transferable skills, we take a look at Integrative and Informed Thinking.

During EMMA’s visit to Proctor Elementary School, in Proctor VT, the potential for maker-centered learning to support students’ integrated and informed thinking really came to life. Once again, the Design Thinking process was used to guide the making, providing a structure within which students could build knowledge and systematize their thinking.

Continue reading How making supports integrative and informed thinking

Sharing STEAM projects with families

Proctor’s STEAM Family Night

STEAM projects with familiesThe sleepy little town of Proctor VT, is making some big waves when it comes to showcasing their students’ STEAM achievements. STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math) is a hot topic in school innovation right now, and rural towns like Proctor are primed and ready to show their communities just why STEAM matters so much to students.

Continue reading Sharing STEAM projects with families

8 year-end reflection tools and activities

Reflect, celebrate and plan

year-end reflection tools and activitiesOh, the spring. Such a busy time for teachers.

There are all those transition meetings, already getting ready for the next year. Then there are placement meetings, figuring out who will be in what class, core or group. And of course, all those ceremonies, exhibitions, and spring events.

It’s easy to forget all of the progress you have made with your students and as a school during these times. And it’s easy to get frustrated and to focus only on what you have to do next.

Your class, your community and the progress your school has made matters. And they should be celebrated.

Continue reading 8 year-end reflection tools and activities

4 ideas for using a makerspace to support PBL

How do project-based learning and makerspaces fit together?

makerspaces and project-based learningMaking and PBL may look like two completely different educational movements, but in reality they work well together and each strengthens the other.

That’s because they share a common fundamental underpinning: they honor students’ innate curiosity about the world.

Continue reading 4 ideas for using a makerspace to support PBL

4 ways to use Virtual Reality in project-based learning

VR’s real world impact on students

Virtual reality is exciting and many of our students are already using this technology in gaming (as some were quick to tell me). So why aren’t we using it more in education? Why aren’t we using it in project-based learning?

Maybe we just need some ideas on how to use VR in education. So let’s start by looking at virtual reality in project-based learning (PBL).

Continue reading 4 ways to use Virtual Reality in project-based learning

Project-based learning: Extreme weather PBL unit

 This is Real World PBL

Real World PBLNow we’ve been down the PBL highway, looking at PBL planning, entry events, supports for PBL, culminating events, and technology tools. It’s time to examine at what PBL looks like when educators stop being polite and start getting real: this is PBL in real classrooms.

Let’s start with Courtney Elliott’s fourth and fifth grade class at Proctor Elementary School in Proctor, Vermont. Elliott’s first PBL unit was designed to teach students how to do PBL, while also addressing Next Generation Science Standards. She tiered her approach to build responsibility in the project and to provide supports on the way.

Continue reading Project-based learning: Extreme weather PBL unit

Culminating Events for Project-Based Learning

Honor scholars with an authentic audience for their work

culminating events for project-based learningThe culminating event! It’s the lovely finish line of a Project-Based learning unit. The big event. You’ve been planning for months for this event that celebrates the projects and the learning in an authentic, community based forum. All along, it’s been a strong motivator for scholars, grounding the relevant work they’ve been doing.

So. What does it look like to pull off a memorable and meaningful culminating event for project-based learning?

Continue reading Culminating Events for Project-Based Learning

Assessment in Project-Based Learning

Signs along the way

assessment in project-based learningAssessments can be hard to create and manage, but they are a necessary part of PBL. You can do it!

Assessments are often done with the elements of Understanding by Design : beginning with the end in mind.

Here are some ideas for how to use assessment — both formative and summative — to report to families, inform your practice, and improve student learning.

Continue reading Assessment in Project-Based Learning

Scaffolds to support PBL learners

Ways to support project-based learning

scaffolds to support PBL learnersSome people have the mistaken idea that PBL is just when you point students in the direction of a project and say, “Go for it!”

Um, no.

If your students have a culture of doing project-based learning and are very independent, it makes sense to give them a lot of freedom — but that’s just not the case for many of our students.

If you have students who are younger, or need more support and structure here are some ideas and examples. It always makes sense to err on the side of having too many supports rather than too few.

Continue reading Scaffolds to support PBL learners

Brainstorming and Research in PBL

brainstorming and research in PBLYou’ve done an engaging entry event. You have a plan for your PBL unit with a focused driving question. Sweet! Now it’s time for the students to embark on research. But the world of information is a vast wilderness fraught with danger: the danger of misinformation!

Before we can research, we need to brainstorm: What do kids want to do about the driving question and about the entry event? What do they want to see happen?

Continue reading Brainstorming and Research in PBL

Entry events for project-based learning

Start with the dramatic, unexpected & memorable

entry events for project-based learningQ: What do we really want from project-based learning?

A: We want students to care about this subject. To really, truly care about it from their own student perspectives. To engage the active learning parts of their brains and the moral imperative for the work.

Entry events are usually dreamed up during the planning stages of project-based learning. They’re just as much a part of PBL as the research, rubrics, and community connections.

So what can an entry event look like?

Continue reading Entry events for project-based learning