Exceptional Instruction

Wiggle While You Work

The second grade team at Elizabeth Ide School is piloting flexible seating options this school year. They have introduced different types of seating and the rules/expectations for these types of seating options within their classrooms. Students now have choices in seating. They can choose from plastic wobble chairs, stability balls, picnic chairs, carpets, small rugs, crates with cushions, bean bag chairs, or a traditional desk chair throughout the day.  The second grade teachers hope these seating options will help to improve student focus, engagement, and allow students to choose and have an understanding of how they learn best. This choice also provides a sense of ownership to our students. 

Here is what the children say about the flexible seating options:

“They are fun!”

“I like wobbling around.”

“I have trouble sitting in the hard chair all day. I like the soft chairs we use on the rug. I can lean back in it.”

“They are really comfortable!”

“You might feel a little stressed out because you have so much to finish, and they help you relax.”

“They help me focus. I need to move around a little.”

“The chairs keep your energy out, so you don’t goof around.”

Students can rock back and forth or side to side on plastic wobble chairs.


Students can gently bounce on stability balls.


Students also have other alternate seating options.  


The Code Word Is…

Some of our 3rd grade teachers are finding ways to introduce computer coding into the classroom. Why would we want our students to learn the basics of programming? First, we recognize its significance in the digital age. Although our students use technology on a daily basis, it is important for them to understand the science and logic behind it. Coding allows kids to become actively engaged in the process of computing, not just passive users of technology. Also, knowing our reliance on technology will only increase over time, we want our students to be future-ready learners. Another reason coding in the elementary classroom is beneficial to our students is that the type of thinking involved influences the development of a child’s brain. Students gain a deeper understanding of cause and effect, and it sharpens their ability to troubleshoot and solve problems.Image result for quote by steve jobs about coding

Third graders in Mary Pellin’s and Heather Lopez’s classrooms were introduced to coding using activities found at code.org. This is a great resource for any teachers who would like to get their students started with the basics of computer programming. Students in Mary Pellin’s math class can be seen here completing a hands-on activity to learn about binary code.

It is wonderful to see our students expanding their knowledge of technology. They are quick to learn, and coding skills will help our kids thrive in a rapidly changing digital world.

Portfolios at Prairieview Going Digital

ClassDojo, Artsonia, and Seesaw, oh my! So many ways teachers and students can showcase the learning happening in the classroom. Digital portfolios allow students to track and demonstrate their growth over long periods of time, and they can follow students throughout their entire school careers. Creating digital portfolios has many other benefits as well. Parents don’t need to wait for a special invitation to “enter” their students school and view work. They can access it anywhere and any time! Also, portfolios foster sharing and collaboration. Students, teachers, and parents can all comment on posts. Although teachers must approve posts before they can be viewed by others, this feature allows for a discussion of digital citizenship on topics such as online etiquette and safety.

ClassDojo is actually a tool several Prairieview teachers started using as a way to promote positive behaviors like participation, working hard, and active listening. A few teachers have now started to utilize a recent addition to ClassDojo, called Student Stories. This is a way students can record and share their learning and accomplishments digitally. Students in Heather Lopez’s room are seen here using a QR-code to access and add to their digital portfolio. In the last two pictures, you can see students in Samantha Gari’s room adding their Science projects.

lopez-class-stories-2 lopez-class-stories        gari-add-to-class-dogo-story gari-adding-to-story-in-class-dojo

Artsonia is a way students are archiving their learning in Art class. Miss Smeltzer has step-by-step directions displayed in her classroom so that students may post their work independently as they finish. Later, students add an “Artist Statement” to share about themselves, their artwork, and their perspectives as artists. Students writing about their inspiration for an art piece, listing the materials (media) used, and describing what they did to create their art help them (and others) gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for their work.

artsonia1 artsonia-2

Seesaw is a digital portfolio option that several K-2 teachers in our district are using. You can learn more about Seesaw by reading an earlier post focused on instruction at Elizabeth Ide. No matter what the choice for capturing student learning, a digital portfolio is a powerful tool for students, teachers, and parents!

Encouraging Student Risk-Taking by Grading the Process Not the Product

Over the course of the past five school years, Mrs. Erika Myers has developed Lakeview Junior High School’s STEM program, which tasks students with encountering new tools and concepts, and asks them to synthesize their learning through inquiry and project-based experiences.  

Mrs. Myers has observed that students become fearful to take risks when they know there will be a grade assigned to their project.  She realized that grading the end product was inhibiting her students’ ability to take risks.  Furthermore, students were focusing on their final product – not the road they took to get there.   Mrs. Myers worked hard on developing a rubric to help students feel safe taking risks, which also rewards students for their persistence, problem-solving, collaboration, and effort.   All of her hard work resulted in this Student-Friendly Maker Rubric, which can be used for many different types of STEM projects.

Teachers often follow the mantra, “Never ask your students to do something you haven’t done/wouldn’t do yourself.”  Mrs. Myers is an excellent model of this!  She has demonstrated perseverance and created multiple iterations  of the rubric – striving to create a fair and valid measurement tool to assess student learning in the STEM lab.  Much like she has asked her students to do, Mrs. Myers pulled initial ideas for her rubric from several sources including this rubric from Edutopia and this Digital Harbor Foundation rubric.  However, she carefully considered her specific student population, the projects they encounter, and encouraging growth mindset when she refined these ideas into something better suited for her STEM Lab’s needs.

Here are a couple of features from this rubric that warrant highlighting:

  • In an earlier version of her rubric, Mrs. Myers used “Creativity” as criteria.  However, after some reflection and observation of her students, she came to the understanding that creativity isn’t something that should always be expected.  When explaining this to her students, Mrs. Myers asked, “Is the IPhone8 an example of creativity?” Their answer was, “No”.  However, students agreed that the IPhone8 has some amazing enhancements, which makes it a remarkable product.  Instead of grading students on creativity, Mrs. Myers decided to use the criteria of “Iteration”, which assesses the number of components students attempted to improve in their project.  This adaptation to the grading rubric encouraged students to take risks because it allows them to see that a product is never finished – that students should always be looking for ways to improve anything in their lives.
  • Another modification stemmed from the criteria “Positive Attitude”.  After some thought and in collaboration with our school social worker, Mrs. Myers determined that managing frustration while problem solving was the skill she wanted students to focus on.  What she came up with was the criteria of “Initiative”.  In her rubric, a student can be exemplary and encounter frustration.  What’s paramount is that students take initiative for their own learning and persevere through roadblocks and the frustration they encounter as they move forward with their learning.  As she explains, “It’s okay to feel frustration.  We just need to not let it interfere with our productivity.  I don’t want students’ setbacks to be punitive, and recognizing and asking for help should not be counted against them.  Instead, I’m trying to encourage my students to work through their struggles.  When they ask for help, I ask them, ‘How have you tried to solve the issue’?” 



    It’s exciting to see Mrs. Myers and her students take on a growth mindset.  It’s no longer all about the end product.  There is value in the learning that occurs while students  move towards that end product!

Formative Assessment to Drive Instruction in the Right Direction

Prairieview teachers are using a variety of formative assessments to drive their instruction. Whether it’s a Fist to Five3-2-1 Slip,  Exit Ticket, or other method; quick checks of student understanding are essential  for deciding where to go next with your teaching. Here is an example of Kim Swaekauski reviewing math exit tickets her students completed after a few lessons on a certain topic. She was able to determine which students needed enrichment, more practice, or reteaching of skills and concepts. Then she planned small group instruction within math stations in order to best meet the needs of her students.swaek-formative-assessment

Sammie Gari uses Plickers as a way to check and track student learning. Here she is scanning her students’ responses to a review question. Using Plickers, she was able to identify whether students knew and were able to do what they should at that part of the unit; which guided her future instruction.gari-plickers2


It’s exciting to see the variety of ways teachers gather data quickly, yet purposefully, to guide instruction. The information not only helps the teacher make instructional decisions, but can sometimes provide feedback so students can identify areas for improvement. Formative assessment – assessment that is quite literally for learning!