Monthly Archives: March 2017

Practicing UNusual Teaching: SMSU Elementary Clinical Style

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Our SMSU teacher candidates have oodles and oodles of field experience hours during their teacher preparation program.

It begins with their freshman year in Introduction to Education where they are expected to complete 15 hours in a classroom of their desired grade level. Fast forward to their junior methods year and they find themselves completing 90+ hours in the classroom.

During these numerous hours, the teacher candidates are asked to do the usual tasks…observe, keep a journal, teach one lesson, interview a student, interview their mentor teacher, and assist the teacher in any way possible.

And then along comes the elementary clinical in the spring of their junior year. Dare I say there is nothing usual about this field experience. Our SMSU teacher candidates are in total control of a classroom for two full days, team teaching every lesson and every subject based on one chosen theme. When our teacher candidates have successfully completed their two days of clinical, a gratifying exhaustion sets in…

Well, our 2017 two-day elementary clinical concluded last week and is now written in the book of success. It is an experience that our teacher candidates will always remember (I still remember mine and that was 32 years ago). Read on for a few of their clinical perspectives:

Alli: This was an experience that will never be forgotten. Organizing the lesson plans and all of the classroom theme decorations was a good insight into what it will be like having my own classroom. This is truly the only college experience that allows an education student to be fully immersed and in control of an entire classroom for TWO whole days! Definitely a great experience and one that helped me build upon my teaching skills.

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Mady: Clinical was a very fun, hectic, scary, most worthwhile experience I’ve done for teaching. A memorable activity we used was a life-size whale that students got to climb inside of and explore around.

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Taylor: I thoroughly enjoyed making all the decorations and planning for our theme. The first day was a whirlwind. We had a girl projectile vomit in the classroom and a boy hit his head in PE. Clinical was stressful, but what made it all worth it was when we had a little girl come up to us and say, “This is the most fun I have ever had in school.”

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Madison: During partner work time, one student looked at me and said, “I need a break.” I followed him out, talked to him for a bit, and after a few seconds of silence he rejoined the class. Sometimes everybody needs a little hallway thinking time.

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Janaye: At the end of the second day, a student I had been working with gave me a high five and said bye to me. This was only the third time I heard him talk in the two days so it meant a lot to me that he wanted to say bye.

Niki: Students absolutely loved the pirate theme classroom. Shout out to Dave Burgess and Dr. Wendy Schoolmeester. “Teach like a Pirate.”

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Mariah: Clinical was a blast and it was a glimpse into our futures as teachers because we did everything from planning to reflecting.

Laura: We ate lunch with our class and they LOVED it. They were begging us to eat with them again on Friday. One girl told me my hair looked like a tiger with stripes and that I should be their school mascot.

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Morgan: My group and I worked really hard. I kept thinking to myself, “I have three partners. How in the world does a teacher do all of this by him/herself?” There was no sitting or down time. We were always on the move.

Sarah: Our group worked really well together. When one person was getting stuck on explaining something we jumped in to help. Make sure you know where you are supposed to be and what time you’re supposed to be there. Whoops.

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Taylor: At the end of the second day, a young girl came up to me and said “I just want you to know this is the first time I’ve ever had fun in school. I mean, I’ve had fun on field trips, but not in actual school.” Made all of the work/hours/time SO worth it.

Annie: As a Special Education major, I found a lot of value having this experience. It helped me understand the supports the students are receiving in the classroom. I worked closely with a student who was struggling with attention. I thought he would be ready to get back to his usual routine. When I asked him Friday, “Can you believe we’re done?” His response was, “I wish we weren’t.”

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Congrats, teacher candidates! You all certainly practiced UN-usual teaching…clinical style! 🙂

As Shelley and Dave Burgess say in their book P is for PIRATE, “U is for UN. We need a lot more of this kind of “UN” in education.”

Teacher candidates…to quote the Burgesses, you were “unwavering in your commitment, unleashed in your creativity, uncommon in your methods, unbroken in your spirit, unmatched in your effort, uninhibited in your passion, unabashed in your enthusiasm, and uncompromising in your pursuit of excellence (Burgess, 2014).

Continue to excel!

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Stay Calm & Stay Unusual!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

March Madness Teaching Fun

Blog March STEM Madness

Photo Credit:

Q: What did the march say to all the madness?

A: What’s all that bracket? Ba-dum-bum-CHING 😀

March brings on the college basketball playoff madness. This grandma even filled out a bracket for the first time (which is doing horrible because I have a soft heart and went with most of the underdogs 😮 ).

A friend was telling me that all her family members fill out a bracket and she keeps track of the points earned. At the end of the March Madness, she buys a small gift for the winner. A gift such as a Subway Gift Certificate. She also shared that since she is the keeper of the brackets, she adds a little trash texting when she can. 🙂 Thank you, Judy, for the family fun idea. I have nothing to trash, which is making me down in the dumps.

My family decided to steal this idea and most members filled out their hopeful winning brackets. After Round 2 the grandchildren are in first place (Grandpa filled out a ‘chalk’ bracket for them), the daughter is in second, Grandpa is in third place, the son is in fourth, and I am dead last and fading fast.

I’ve learned a little math because of all this bracket business. I had no idea how to keep the points. The math hubby shared the Fibonacci Sequence and summed it up for me. Wow, who knew? Evidently, not me. If you aren’t sure what that is, click here to check it out, and consider it part of your new knowledge gleaned today. Math is fun.

My daughter shared that one year her bracket did terrible.  When I asked her why, her answer made me chuckle: “because I picked the teams based on their mascots. Whichever mascot would win in a fight against the other, then that was the team I picked. It was bad” (as she expected it to be). 😀  Well, fear not. There’s a classroom activity for that (click on the picture for more details)…March Mascot Madness.

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Like the example above, teachers have an enjoyable time with March Madness. If you walk the hallways of schools you will likely see bulletin boards that have competitions going on for many subjects—picture book competitions, song competitions, physical education competitions, and even Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) competitions. You will see classrooms everywhere that are celebrating the basketball frenzy with their specific educational twists.

Even principals do innovative activities with this March Madness craze. Dr. Brad Gustafson, elementary principal in Wayzata, Minnesota, used the March Madness theme for his podcast last year. Check out one of his ‘edu-awesome’ March Madness podcasts below:

While perusing Pinterest, several fun March Teaching Madness ideas bounced out. Below are just a few of these activities. Click on all the pictures for the links to take you to a more detailed explanation of the idea.

March Door-Decorating Madness will create an inviting, welcoming atmosphere. Decorated doors help instill excitement into the learning.

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March Reading Madness book tournaments are wonderful for any age. Use picture books for younger students or use classics for older students. A genre tournament would also be great in a Language Arts class or a Children’s Literature class. A tournament of books can be implemented in any classroom.

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March Library Madness is another way to have a book tournament. Librarians like to add a little thrill when the students come visit the library, and kudos to these folks for scoring big with library time.

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Mapping skills would be a great March Social Studies Madness activity. Many of the university locations are unknown to me so I’ve had to look them up. I discovered that Butler is in Indiana, and that Gonzaga is in Washington. In addition to math, I’ve learned a little social studies.

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March Science Madness could be something simple like an experiment that demonstrates potential energy (stored) and kinetic energy (moving) with discussion on momentum, speed, and mass. Energizing…

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March STEM Madness brings on many activity choices. Science experiments, fractions in math, or engineering innovation, this link will fill the March STEM Madness gaps.

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How do engineers play basketball? Check out the video below to find out. 😀

March Physical Education Madness will challenge the stamina of students and staff. I’ll be giving these exercises a try during the 3rd round. I hope it will work out.

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March Music Madness can include songs that are familiar to the students and they vote on their favorites. Or, if there is a genre that is being taught, have those songs on the bracket. Please note that the possibilities are endless.

Blog March Music Madness Spanish class

My bracket has Villanova winning the whole tournament. They lost on Saturday which busted my bracket to smithereens! 😮 If it weren’t for those Fibonacci points…I’d have no points at all. And that, dear friends, would be pointless.

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If you have any ‘edu-awesome’ March Madness ideas that you have used in your classroom or have seen in a school, PLEASE share in the comments so our teacher candidates can beg, borrow, and steal (tweak). 🙂 Bracketology…give it a shot (pardon all the puns 😀 ).

Stay Calm & March On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Opportunity Today & Legacy Tomorrow


BLOG 3.13.17 Opportunity and Legacy

Opportunity is everywhere we look.  Do you see it?  Look closer. Our attitudes provide our lens – our outlook to see the opportunities around us.  Sure – hindsight is 20/20, but if we start looking forward for it, we may just find it out in front of us in our very path. Opportunity today can impact our legacy tomorrow.

If you recall a few posts back, Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The story of success, was mentioned.  Well, for those of you on the edge of your seats waiting for more, here is your opportunity to read and learn more.  It brings to light so many thoughts on so many levels, and can be part of each our legacies if we seize the moment – seize the opportunity.

Let’s start with the basics – the definition of two important terms: opportunity and legacy.

Opportunity can be defined as a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something. According to Merriam-Webster, opportunity is a favorable juncture of circumstances or a good change for advancement or progress. Also, according to Merriam-Webster, legacy is a gift by will, especially of money or other personal property or something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. These are two positive, powerful words.  I say we set them free and employ them every chance we get.

In Outliers we come to understand that “success arises out of the steady accumulation of advantages: when and where you were born, what your parents did for a living, and what the circumstances of your upbringing were… all make a significant difference in how well you do in the world”… as well as traditions, attitudes, and cultural legacies (p.176).

Gladwell provides various and multiple stories to support his theory. He weaves his narrative to tell the story of opportunity in Part One by considering the Matthew Effect, the 10,000-Hour Rule, and more. From there he progresses to Part Two where he addresses legacy with personal stories to demonstrate how our ancestors’ legacies and our own legacy plays a major role in our success.

Outliers says that “success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities – and who have the strength and presence of mind to seize them” (p.267). Hmmm… seize the day? That is a quite common phrase about capturing oopportunity.

One particular focus in the book raised my eyebrows as an educator. Summer vacation. Love-hate relationship here as an educator… So, what does he say?
Gladwell notes the unchallenged mindset of summer vacation in the United States. We point fingers when it comes to low test scores without seeing the big picture.  Our learners are “out-houred” when it comes to education. We focus on the faults of schools when in fact, they are mostly pretty good with some fine teachers.  What is missing?  The extra days and hours that other countries provide. The author compares “The school year in the United States is, on average, 180 days long. The South Korean school year is 220 days long. The Japanese school year is 243 days long” (p.260). Year-round schooling may be unpopular to many – especially to those of us who grew up with a long, care-free summer – but it makes sense. Sorry. Again – hope not to lose any of our fabulous blog followers with my open comments about summer… Don’t get me wrong, I love summer! I do need to take this moment to share my thoughts, however. What if? … What if we tried a trimester-system, where engaged learning happens in schools for a term with an extended break of maybe 2-3 weeks before starting up again and repeating.  July holiday? Sure – it should still work and not diminish student retention.  You have to admit there is some validity in this way of thinking. What if? Okay – back to the book…

Life is hard.  Life is harder for some. Life is even harder for others.  How is it decided whose life will be especially tough while others experience what seems like smooth-sailing?

“We are so caught up in the myths of the best and the brightest and the self-made that we think outliers spring naturally from the earth” (p.268).  Gladwell continues “To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine success – the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history – with a society that provides opportunities for all…The world could be so much richer than the world we have settled for” (p.268).  Why do we settle? Why do we think it is okay to leave behind any of our neighbors? Why don’t we offer a hand to help everyone up and to do better each day? We are only as strong as our weakest link, right? Let this be our legacy – that opportunity is truly a possibility for all.

Gladwell closes with his own family’s history, and the thought that the success of outliers being attributed to history, community, opportunity, legacy, advantages and inheritances. “The outlier, in the end, is not an outlier at all” (p.285).

If you get the opportunity, read Outliers. And consider year-round education and our legacy

Stay Calm & Carry On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.


A Spring Break Letter to Our Teacher Candidates

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Dear SMSU Junior Methods Teacher Candidates:

This week you are in the classrooms with your mentor teachers completing your Pre-Student Teaching Experiences (PSTE) along with your edTPA expectations.

We know that it is also spring break this week. Your hearts WANT to be at a beach somewhere sipping an umbrella drink, but your minds know that you GET to be shaping the minds and the lives of little ones in the classroom.

While one best friend may be enjoying the sunrise in Jamaica…

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And another good friend relishing the sunrise in Hawaii…

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Or yet another friend appreciating the sunrise in the Bahamas…

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You, teacher candidates, get to admire the sunrise right here at home because no matter where you are, ALL sunrises are stunning. Even those right here in Minnesota. So let’s look on the bright side…

Just as each sunrise is mysterious, different, unique, intriguing, beautiful…so are all of those kiddos that you get to inspire this week during spring break. Shine on. Be a light in their days. Be their sunshine in that elementary classroom where you are passionately practicing what you have worked so hard at becoming…the best elementary teacher you can possibly be.

When the week is done, be proud of what you have accomplished. And please know the positive influence you have had on all those children you taught. Then sit back, relax, sip a soda, and enjoy the sunset right here at home. We heart you! 😉

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Photo credit…SMSU Today

Stay Calm & Shine On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

Springtime is On Its Way…so is New Life and New Legislation


Springtime!  It’s almost here.  Can you feel it?  Okay – maybe not so much today since it is the coldest day since February 9th, 2017, but spring is indeed on its way. That means new life …and new legislation are on the way.  Hopefully writing this won’t turn away any of our blog fans (including Dr. Wendy), but it is purposeful.  It is meant to inform, which is part of our educonnections mission – “sharing about teaching, learning, leading, and life.” Eek! We can’t complain about laws and rules if we aren’t willing to be fully invested – to be engaged in our own story as it is being written. So here goes based on my humble understanding of government…

Currently, there are some legislative proposals that will impact educators.
A few highlights regarding MN legislation to consider:

There is a proposed change of governance in education. In the HF1079.0 Teacher Licensing and Standards bill in Article 1 Sec. 21 Transfer of Powers, “the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards board shall be considered a transfer by law of responsibilities of the Board of Teaching and Minnesota Department of Education with respect to licensure and credentialing of teachers and school personnel to the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board for purposes of MN Statutes, section 15.039.” This is also in the Senate bill SCS0004A-4 Article 1, Section 19. MDE’s responsibilities regarding school administrators is to be transferred to the Board of School Administrators.

Student teaching may look different. Year-long student teaching experiences are included in proposed legislation. This may create hardships for teacher candidates, however. The specific rules on the implementation of this would be set by the proposed PELSB – Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.

Tiered licensure is part of both bills. Both bills propose allowing untrained teachers in the classroom, which may address the teacher shortage, but may not provide the best education for our learners. Tiered Licensure begins at line 23.7 in the Senate bill.
Tiered Licensure begins at line 33.7 in the House bill.

There is much more to consider both at the state and national levels. This is just a short summary of MN proposed legislation. Find out what is happening in your state, your nation. Be informed. We will try to be.

The complete bills are located at:
Senate bill
House bill

Senator Eric Pratt, Chairperson of the Senate K-12 Education Policy committee and lead author of Senate File 04. Phone:
Phone: 651-296-4123.

Representative Sondra Erickson, Chairperson of the House Education Innovation and Policy committee and lead author of House File 140.
Phone: 651-296-6746.

Consider contacting your legislative representatives to share your support and concerns.

It is our responsibility to be engaged citizens. It is a choice, however, so you decide. Enjoy our freedom and make the most of it each day.

Stay Calm & Be Engaged!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.