Education is Messy

A few weeks ago, I joined four of my Flynn colleagues to view The Partnership for Change’s movie screening of “Most Likely to Succeed.”  The movie, in a nutshell, is a father’s lament about his decision as a parent in regards to the school he chose for his daughter and it’s pedagogy after his daughter becomes sullen and withdrawn from her current content driven school program.  It provides a side by side comparison of two pedagogical approaches to education; content based and project based.

While contemplating the movie’s overall theme and comparisons, I must say I felt pretty satisfied with the  STEAM program I am building at Flynn.  The soft skills described in the Tech High School (project based school) aligned with the skills we are using in STEAM everyday;  team work and collaboration, problem solving, critical observations, communication, taking risks, and learning to fail.  Many of these skills are often used daily in our classrooms as well.  These are the necessary skills students need to cultivate to have a seamless assimilation in our communities and workforce as adults.

A few ideas of this movie really spoke to me.  One was that the idea of education is messy.  It’s not always linear and neat, it throws you off your feet once in awhile and you have to take the risks associated with it .  I can surely attest to this, as probably most teachers in our community.  There is no one size fits all approach to education, but being brave enough to try new approaches is how we are going to make success attainable to all of our students.  On the flip side, learning is messy too.  My fifth grade STEAM students have been engaging in modeling and building understanding of concepts over the last few weeks and boy is it messy!  They share initial ideas, then discuss, critique each other, then revise their ideas and hopefully engage in some respectful arguing along the way.


Making meaning together is messy!

The second idea that spoke to me and is always a healthy reminder to adults is to allow kids to create on their own – don’t put your own ideas into their ideas and projects.   This initially brings me back to my days in college when I worked for a preschool and children created art projects.  I always remembered to allow their work to reflect their creativity, not the teacher’s interpretations of what finished artwork SHOULD look like.  This certainly applies to my current teaching as well when my students are creating projects and developing ideas.  The teacher or facilitator must go into the project with no preconceived ideas of the end result.  Teachers must  ignore their own ideas, so it’s truly the student’s own interpretation.  Isn’t this really what we want for kids though?  To be confident in their own ideas and not be afraid to create?  I think so.


“Most Likely to Succeed” is playing again in Winooski on November 12th.


Kindergarten Beginning to Model Understanding

This year is the first year kindergarten is engaging in STEAM class and projects.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but last week they surpassed my expectations.  During a number of lessons on seeds and the cycle of plant’s lives I decided to see if students could model the life cycle of a plant in their STEAM notebooks (ie. draw pictures, labels and words to demonstrate their understanding).  I was so impressed by what I saw that I had to take a few photos.  Here they are:

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Building on First Graders Knowledge of Light

First graders completed their science unit on investigations with light recently.  To build on their newly formed knowledge we did some of our own lessons about light in STEAM class.  These lessons were created by VEEP and dive deeper into the idea of solar energy and heat.  Students first worked on creating trees.  They investigated with light to investigate the differences between summer and winter trees in relation to light and heat.

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Today Mrs. Peterson’s class worked as engineers to design and build structures that blocked the most light by creating the biggest shadow.  While working in pairs they were involved in:

collaboration – students worked with partners to design and build with each other making sure that each student’s voice was heard.


problem solving – in two instances I witnessed students tackling issues when another partner added a piece that didn’t fit such as adding paper walls or putting two parts made separately together.


communication – students had to constantly talk to one another throughout the entire engineering process.


Next week we will discuss the differences between structures and start to improve upon student’s initial designs to create buildings with larger shadows.

Sights of Integration

Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed and documented some examples of integration on the Unified Arts team.  Here are some photos to share what I’ve seen:

Mrs. Plumer teaching art using sunflower seeds and parts of a sunflower stations.  Students used vocabulary about plants and seeds that are also used while working in the garden and in lessons involving seeds in grades k and 1.

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Ms. Willette using some of the aspects of scientific drawing (labeling) in a music class activity.

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Flynn Garden News

For those of you who do not know yet, Flynn Elementary School has partnered with Arts Riot in Burlington for our garden maintenance and planting.  This summer we had an intern from UVM’s Rubenstein school making weekly visits to water, care for and harvest our produce.  Last week our intern, Carli, accompanied myself and Mrs. Pecor’s class to the garden to plant cover crops in our newly formed windrows.

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Students planted a mixture of hairy vetch, white clover and annual ryegrass .  We then focused on using some  online safe researching skills to learn exactly why we plant cover crops and add compost to our gardens.

EPSCoR Scientists Visit JJ Flynn

Last week we had an exciting visit for some of our fifth graders and first graders!  Our visitors were scientists and a professor from St. Michael’s College that perform research for EPSCoR.  Currently, these folks are working on the effects on Lake Champlain due to climate change.  It long and short of it is, with climate change comes increased rain, thus causing more phosphorus and other materials to be washed into the lake via streams and rivers throughout Vermont which is causing  an increase in our algae blooms in Lake Champlain.   Cause and effect two times over!

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EPSCoR taught fifth graders in Ms. D’Agostino’s class how to use microscopes properly and allowed them to view different macroinvertebrates collected from Vermont streams and rivers.   They taught us that they these insects can signal the health of the river or stream it was captured in.

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First graders in Mrs. Noble’s class also received a visit from EPSCoR and learned the basics about what scientists do.  They compared water samples from Lake Champlain, observed macroinvertebrates and played games to learn about the day in the life of a scientist.

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It was an engaging and well taught string of lessons.  We hope that they will visit us again!

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Let’s Learn About Robotics

I feel so fortunate to have Lego WeDo Robotics for my STEAM students to use.  These beginner robotics sets are a huge hit and offer endless creative ways for students to design and build robots.  This week I began a robotics lesson with my fourth grade STEAM students.

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Not that the kids need a “hook” to get interested in robotics. but I showed them this YouTube video anyways to see what they noticed and wondered about.

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Here’s their comments:

“I noticed that these robots are either made for fun or to save people.”

“I wonder why one had all it’s wires covered and other had exposed wires?  Isn’t this dangerous since some of them save people and might have to go into water and risk it’s own life?”

“I wonder how they protect themselves?”

“How do they save people?”

“How are they being controlled?”

“I notice that some robots seem to be moving on batteries, some are moved by people and some by iPhones.”

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We have many more classes to come where the students will grapple with and understand of the basics of robotics through their own creations and investigations.