This summer, I read a book called Empower, by A.J. Juiliani.  Thoughts flew through my head each night as I sat down to read chapter after chapter.  As I read, I reflected upon my own time in the classroom.  Did I empower my students? What could I have done better?  

While reading Empower, I thought of one particular activity that I always did before midterm and final exams.  I let the students take charge of the class and guide their peers through review activities.  This was a group activity and I assigned each group a chapter or unit to review with their classmates.  They prepared a lesson and activity to teach to the class.  Some kids loved this activity and some kids hated it.  

One student, Dylan, thrived in this environment.  He loved it so much during our midterm review, that he volunteered to do this more before unit tests.  Generally, I didn’t let my students “teach” a review prior to a unit test, but Dylan really wanted to.  So, I took a step back and let him go for it.  I was amazed with the clarity in which Dylan presented the material to his classmates.  He took great pride in sharing what he knew and asking questions to the class.  As a teacher, I could see what Dylan knew and didn’t know before a test.  In hindsight, I should have done this activity more often.

Jump forward to today.

I am out of the classroom; Dylan is a teacher; I have two school-aged children.  Last Thursday, my younger son (Zach), came home and told me that I had to look on Twitter to see what he did that day.  This is what I saw:

That’s my son!  He was a “teacher” and so proud of it! Mrs. Malloy, his teacher told me,  “I don’t do it often, and I always let the kiddos say no thank you, but gosh, he was so empowered, and to me -if he can teach it -he’s got it mastered.”

Empowered.  Isn’t that what we want for all of our students?

From the Mouths of Babes…

Have Conversations

Conversations with my children are generally quite insightful.  So insightful that I feel it necessary to share one from this past weekend.

Setting: In my car on Saturday, going to a soccer game.

Characters: Will (4th grade) & Mom


Will:  School is boring.

Mom: Well, what makes it boring?

Will: It’s just boring because there are not enough fun activities.

Mom:  What would be some fun activities?

Will: My dream classroom would be…there would be a teleport machine. Every desk would have iPads and on the iPads there would be apps of the students’ choice.  On one wall there would be a beach and on the other wall there would be a math board.

Mom: Interesting.  But, what would be the fun activities?  Part of my job is helping teachers find fun activities for their classes? What should I tell them?

It took a while for me to get Will to understand that teachers have to teach to standards.  But, once he got it, his responses were great.

Will: In Reading / English, teacher should take their classes outside the classroom.  Maybe, they could listen to an audio book together outside.  Every week, they journal about a subject they want to journal about.  Have the kids read what they want, not what the school wants them to read.  This is better because they can have more fun that way when they do what they want to do.  In Technology, every part of class, kids can go on a website they like and play games.  The kids would not be able to go to anything closed off or inappropriate.  And, also in every part of class, they can research on something they want to research on.  They would journal about it. In Math, do fun activities like less Math homework.

Zach (2nd grade) chimed in while I was typing: Rich tasks because, Mom, those are fun.

Will:  Kids should have more field trips and they could choose which class the field trip relates to.  If the school doesn’t have enough money, the teachers should collect donations from the parents or go on field trips around the school campus.  In Science, do more fun labs.  Kids take votes on labs.  In Social Studies, at the end of class, kids get to vote on a fun game to play.

Zach chiming in again: There would be ball chairs.  On some of the tables there would be regular chairs that had wheels on them.  You would get to decide where to sit.  And, on the first day of school, you would get to set your name tag on the seat you wanted and each quarter, you would get to change seats.  And, for homework, teachers would ask you to use Legos.


There is so much to reflect upon in this conversation.  But, I would like to end with one question.  What would your students say if you asked them how you could make school (or your class / instruction) more fun?

How an Interactive Notebook Made My Week

Last year my son had an “Interactive Notebook” to keep track of all of his 3rd grade Social Studies work.  He brought it home about four times throughout the course of the year to study for tests that he had coming up.  As a child, I don’t think that I ever had this kind of interactive notebook.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.  The notebook was the black and white composition book, and inside he had cut and glued papers in the notebook to help him study.  There was a map that folded out, a pocket that held the types of government, and a worksheet pasted in which explained some basic economic terms.

The Value of Cutting, Pasting and Coloring

My son liked his “interactive notebook”.  He enjoyed pulling out the pieces to show me what he had learned.  He liked coloring the pages, cutting out the pieces and gluing them back in.  Sometimes, I look at these “interactive notebooks” and think to myself, how is this interactive.  Cutting, pasting and coloring are lovely classroom activities, but I wonder how much they added to my son’s knowledge of the social studies curriculum.  Furthermore, is he now able to take those skills learned and apply them to fourth grade curriculum.  Will his “interactive notebook” follow him as he progresses throughout his school career?


This definition of interactive is phenomenal!  “Allowing a two-way flow of information between a computer and a computer-user, responding to a user’s input.”  When I read that, I wonder, how can the black and white composition “interactive notebook” be truly interactive.  It is not responding to the user.  It is only user-driven; doing only what the user does.

A Real Interactive Notebook

At the end of last school year, a teacher told me that he wanted to start his 6th grade Science year off with an interactive notebook.  My initial thoughts went to the black and white composition book.  But, no, he wanted more.  He wanted his students to interact with his template through Google using their Chromebooks.  Yes, my heart fluttered a little during the conversation I had with him describing the possibilities.  He could set it up through Google Slides, share it through Google Classroom (making a copy for each student) and they could create their own interactive notebook.  They could include links to videos, websites, documents.  They could video themselves doing labs and save it in their notebooks.  He could send things to the students that they could add in.  They could reflect and self-assess!  All while he could monitor their progress through his Google Drive.  I left the year on cloud nine, dreaming of this true interactive notebook.

New School Year

So, it’s the beginning of the year and he has a template.  He is ready to go and just needs some assistance making sure he has posted it to Google Classroom correctly.  I walk into his classroom while the kids are beginning their interactive notebooks and this is what I see throughout the classroom.

Collaboration!  Excitement!  Engagement!  Learning!  Student-Centered!

This is an interactive notebook which these students will have with them (saved automatically in their Drive) for the rest of their school career.

Stay tuned for how to create that interactive notebook…