Technology Class Updates

The technology lab at DGS if full of action and buzz. Students come to the lab each week for various instruction on key technology concepts. Mrs. Andrews develops lessons and activities that support learning in the classroom as well as develop students that are technology capable producers. Read on to find out how each grade level is progressing this year!


Kindergarten spent most of first semester learning how to use a computer mouse, opening and closing programs, and identifying the different parts of the computer. Now that they are aware of how a computer works they are focusing on navigating their way around the keyboard with a program called Read, Write, & Type.




1st Grade spent first semester working in a program called Read, Write, & Type which helped them learn where the letters of the alphabet were located on the keyboard along with how to use Shift, period, and Enter. This semester they are working in a program called KidPix where they are learning how to use different drawing tools to create pictures.



2nd grade spent the first part of the year working in a program called Type to Learn 4 which helped them to practice typing while playing fun, challenging games. This program focused a lot on which hand and fingers they should use for each key on the keyboard. They then moved on to their research project where they had to use a website called Enchanted Learning to find information about the planets. Once they did their research they organized their data in a graphic organizer in a program called Kidspiration2. Finally, the kids are using their data about the planet they choose to create an original story about what they would do on their planet if they lived there. Not only are they writing stories, but they are illustrating as well in a program called Storybook Weaver. From playing space tag in their space ships to swimming with alien dolphins, these stories are really coming to life!



Third grade spent the entire first semester working on their typing skills. We began the year learning about proper keyboarding posture, the home row keys and where our fingers rest when we are not using them, and which fingers are used to hit the different keys. Lately we have been using a program called Type to Learn 3 which allows the kids to use their keyboarding knowledge to play fun games. After taking a quick break to familiarize ourselves with the PARCC assessment, we are now ready to begin a research project about the 50 states, and we will use our research to create PowerPoint presentations to share with our classmates!



Fourth grade began the year refreshing their keyboarding skills in a program called Type to Learn 4. It was a rough start as most seem to have lost their keyboarding skills over summer break! They then moved into a research project in which they researched information about the rainforest. We took a quick break from the fun stuff to familiarize ourselves with the PARCC assessment so that fourth grade had a good idea of what they were doing prior to the tests in March. Finally, the students learned how to use a program called PhotoStory in which they used the biographies they wrote in class as their story, downloaded photos from the internet, and put them together to make a beautiful mini-movie. They will finish these up next week and then we will share them with the whole class!



Fifth grade began the year refreshing their keyboarding skills in a program called Type to Learn 4. Just like the fourth graders, 5th grade seemed to have lost their keyboarding skills during summer break, so the refresher was definitely needed! Next they did some research on their Civil War person they were assigned by their classroom teachers. They used their research to create PowerPoint presentations in which they needed to have five informational slides informing their classmates about the role their person played in the war. We took a brief break to familiarize ourselves with the PARCC assessment which is coming up in March, and rewarded ourselves afterwards by presenting our presentations to the class. The students truly did a fabulous job with this project!



Bubble Wrap Appreciation

District Strategic Goal #3: Create Comfortable and Productive Teaching Environments

When I saw “Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day” on a Google list of interesting national holidays, I chuckled. Who creates a national holiday for the packing material? On a whim, I started collecting ‘copious’ amounts of bubble wrap in anticipation of this day. As I spent time in the teachers’ lunchroom ‘decorating’ for the celebration of this day, I’d be remiss as to not share the metaphor that came to me regarding this simply packing material. Bubble Wrap in and of itself protects shipped merchandise, gifts, and items from one location to another. We do that for our students as we wrap them in our ROYAL environment.
Bubble wrap can engage people in one of two ways:

1. When presented with bubble wrap, you can engage in a monotonous and repetitive popping action


2. You can have FUN! Run across the bubble wrap covered floor, take a moment to rejoice in the simple pleasures, and laugh.

I think this represents two different ways we can approach our work with our students. We can

1. Engage with our students in a purposeful, but regimented manner in which our instruction serves its primary purpose but lacks passion


2. We can have FUN! We can laugh, engage and be present in the activities and instruction in our classroom. We can create environments that promote active learning, energy and excitement. We can create learning environments that are memorable and foster creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.

So the next time you see bubble wrap, think about what environments you want to create for your students. Do you want them participating in the monotonous actions that popping bubble wrap over and over would create or do you want them to have FUN and engage in learning at high levels? #gobearoyal


Common Core Math Shift #3: Rigor

Strategic Goal #1: Continuously Improve Student Growth and Achievement

Rigor is a balance

“Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.”(Blackburn, 2008)

“Rigor is more than what you teach, it’s how you teach and how students show you they understand.”

Rigor refers to deep, authentic command of mathematical concepts, not making math harder or introducing topics at earlier grades. To help students meet the expectations of the Common Core State Standards, Dunlap teachers are instructing with three aspects of rigor in mathematics. The three aspects of rigor in the major work of each grade include:

1. Conceptual Understanding: Students “truly” understand grade level concepts.  This is shown by their ability to elicit conversation, identify relationships, and create multiple representations of the concept.
2. Procedural Skill & Fluency: Students are able to solve problems quickly and accurately.  Problem solving strategies are based on mathematical principles, instead of mnemonics and tricks.
3. Application Students are able to solve single and multi-step contextual problems.  This requires students to make certain assumptions in order to model situations.

 Conceptual understanding, procedural skill & fluency, and application provide the perfect platform to allow students to focus on an emphasis of Mathematical Reasoning. This includes:

Construct Viable Arguments: Achieving rigor means that students are able to think independently.  This is shown through classroom discussion and written work.  Students are able to formulate cohesive arguments, critique arguments, and engage in error analysis tasks.  Students should be engaged in these types of tasks 20 -25% of the time.
Specialized Language The language or argument, problem-solving, and mathematical explanations must be taught, rather than assumed.  Specialized language is found within the language of the Standards.  Students must also be taught the “Language of Representations” (diagrams, tables, graphs, expressions, drawings, images, text).

Additional Reading Opportunities:


Book Review: Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids

I promised a book review a month, but my second book was too good not to gobble up and I’m ahead of my resolutions.  Just remember this when I may slack in future months on getting my thoughts down. I just finished reading Whole Brain Teaching for Challenging Kids by Chris Biffle. I was initially introduced to the concept by first grade team, Jen Donavan and Courtney Erikson, last year when they provided PD on some of the basic components of whole brain teaching. I have seen how the “Class-Yes” strategy has infiltrated our building from morning announcements (oh DGS) to the teacher’s lounge microwave cleaning reminders. You’d be pleasantly surprised to hear playground supervisors and parent volunteers picking up on that and using it as well.


Many of the staff members at DGS use the scoreboard techniques and several have attempted to implement the “mirror” strategy. These are all building blocks of good classroom management and student engagement that are embedded in strong brain and learning research. Just wait until you see what other strategies are found in this book. The website has some amazing free resources and there are several examples on youtube once you know what you are looking for.


I shared with you earlier, the article of “That Kid” This book illustrates strategies to help with “that kid,” but also whole class strategies to foster a community of learning and self-motivated learners. A favorite of mine was the “Super Improvers” board. This strategy is essentially a data center focused on individual student improvements in areas of need. One child could work on behavior while one works on enrichment activities. This book reinforces the concept of “Universal Design” in education: What strategies that are intended to be good for a small population, reach and are beneficial for ALL students.


As I read the book, I used Twitter to tweet my thoughts, post additional resources, and share my learning. Thus, my reflection will come in the form of a storify this time. I used storify to organize my tweets and add other resources that may be beneficial to you. You can read it at


I have a copy of the  book in my office, if you’d like to borrow it. It is significantly marked up, but worth the read

5th Grade Students wins DAR Essay Contest

Fifth Grade Student, Bella, won an American History essay contest from the Peoria Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution. She will be honored at a banquet in February.

The contest was open to students in grades five through eight. This essay contest was established to encourage young people to think creatively about our nation’s great history and learn about history in a new light. Children are the future of our country, and it is critically important to educate them about the hard-won price of freedom.

In honor of the 125th anniversary (in 2015) of Ellis Island as an immigration station, the title for this year’s contest was: “A Child’s Journey Through Ellis Island.” On a typical day, immigrants arriving on the island could expect to spend up to seven hours in processing activities intended to determine whether or not they were legally and medically fit to enter the United States. Students are to imagine that they are a child traveling through Ellis Island in 1892 and in their essay they are asked to describe their experience as if they are telling it to a cousin who has never heard of Ellis Island?

Read her winning essay below:

My family and I got on the boat to go to Ellis Island to get to Chicago. Since we didn’t have very much money, we had to stay in the steerage of the boat. The steerage of the boat had so many bunk beds lined up on top of each other, and it was very hot and sticky. The first class section was a lot better than the steerage on the boat, and there were lots of places to sit and many windows.

Once we got to Ellis Island, which took some people weeks or even months, we got onto a ferry boat, which took us to the inspections to make sure that we were healthy. Everyone on first class got to go live their life in America without any inspections. Some people even got sick on the steerage of the boat, but no one usually got sick on the first class section of the boat.

Once we got to the inspection, everyone was asked a series of questions including how old you were, how much money you had, and if you were married. There was one very painful test where they lifted up your eyelid to see if you had one very common disease. I got the flu on the steerage section of the boat, so I had to be detained. My mother and my brother got to go to the next stop without me. This was very scary for me.

There were lots of people in the detaining room with other sicknesses too. I was the healthiest of everyone. I had to stay in the detaining room for two weeks. While I was in the detaining room there was a girl with a very bad disease. She was very contagious. Sadly, I had caught the disease from the girl and I was very sick. No one knew until after two weeks when it had gotten bad. They gave me medicine and I had to be sent back home with the rest of my family. I felt very bad to have to take my mother and baby brother back to Europe too. I was only eight, so I could not go back to Europe alone. That meant that I would not be able to see my father back in America. This upset my family very much.

We got back into the boat with a free ride home. After the long trip we were back in Europe. It was very upsetting to all of my family. We met up with my grandma back home, and I got better medicine back in Europe. I’m all better now. Maybe we’ll try to go back to America another time.

Bar Models from a Teacher’s Perspective

Bar Models

Submitted by: 2nd Grade Teacher, Mrs. Pitzer

This is my third year of teaching Math in Focus and it has been the year of Ah-HA moments.  I am now understanding why this curriculum and the Common Core is teaching things like bar models to help students in math.  It is important to know though, that my journey didn’t begin that way.  With all the negative attention Common Core is receiving it is hard to be positive about it and when there are positives, they get lost or go unnoticed.  The most common statement is always; I was never taught math that way and I turned out fine.  Being a student who struggled with math though, I have found that I am wishing I was taught this way.  And that is the honest truth.  While any set of standards have opportunities for improvement, I have come to learn there is a purpose to the methods and strategies that reinforce the Common Core Standards.  Bar models are a tool, that when used correctly and practiced enough can help students tackle even the most complicated of word problems.  Bar models have not only helped me with word problems but have helped my brightest students think more critically and helped my struggling students know what to do and why.

The first thing taught when bar models are introduced is the concept of a bar representing a number.  Instead of drawing 58 apples, you can just draw a bar to represent 58.  Bigger bars represent larger numbers and smaller bars represent smaller numbers.  Next, students are introduced to the part-part-whole concept.  Basically when you put two parts together you have a whole.  This means you are going to have more and the operation that gives us more is addition.  Sometimes though you are given a whole and just a part which means you end up with something smaller.  The operation that gives us less, is subtraction.  Second graders were even taught hand motions to further help them move from memorization to mastery.

Once we understand this, we then work on finding the parts and a whole in the word problem.  This is different in years past, where students were trained to look for key words and complete the operation that was associated with that key word.  Struggling students would not read the problem, see the word more, and immediately add.  However, that might not be correct and if it didn’t work, they didn’t understand why.  This year, I’ve noticed that by teaching students to draw and label a bar model first, they can know instantly whether they are adding or subtracting and know why.  Again knowing the why part helps students move in to mastery.

After a lot of practice with the part-part-whole model, we move into the comparison model.  This is where the word problem is comparing things and using the words more, less and or fewer.  Yes those are key words, but the key words are only used to let students know the type of bar model to draw instead of what operation to solve.  These types of bar models are two bars, one on top of the other.  Now when students look at a problem they try to label the bar with either the name or the object the problem is about.  They are determining what is more and what is less.  Once they know who or what each bar represents, they can plug in the numbers and see if they have a whole and a part or a part and a part.  The bigger bar is always the whole, the smaller bar is a part and the difference between the two (labeled with a bracket of sorts) is the other part.  By taking what they learned about the part whole concept, they can select the operation that matches.

Once students have had practice with these types of models, we then apply what we have learned to two step problems.  Two step problems are often extremely difficult but by using bar models, it doesn’t seem quite as overwhelming and more solvable.

The goal of second grade is to only introduce and practice using bar models not to master them.  As students continue the year, they receive more practice in using them to solve problems involving measurement and multiplication.  This will prepare them for the upper grades where word problems become more abstract.  Bar models become a necessary part of problem solving.  By teaching students what, how and why to visualize while practicing using the visual, students can move this skill into mastery.  Instead of drawing a bar model they can picture it in their head and use mental math to solve it, which is more of a real life skill.

I understand the backlash of this method and empathize with parents who aren’t sure how to help their child, so they teach them a shortcut. If there is anything I have learned by teaching this curriculum though, it is that teaching shortcuts before a student understands why, doesn’t always equate to mastery.  Students often don’t understand why they are using a shortcut, how to use it and or which shortcut they should pick.  The missing link that Common Core is trying to provide is understanding why and how those shortcuts work.  By understanding the why and how first, students can then be introduced to shortcuts and pick the one that works the best for them.  It is with deeper understanding that they can become more independent, transition into higher level thinking, and master skills instead of memorize.

It took me three years to get here, and it wasn’t easy, but bar models have allowed me to solve word problems more easily and think more critically.  I have seen students have less anxiety and tackle problems that they wouldn’t have been able to because of bar models.  It is also helped me realized that if it took me three years of practice, mastery will not happen overnight.  My goal is to introduce and provide my students with as many practice opportunities as possible so they can have a strong foundation.  As students move through the grades and continue their learning, they can then build on that foundation to become master mathematicians with stellar critical thinking skills.

If you are interested in knowing more about bar models, Mrs. Zarko and I have created several videos to help students and their families at home.  Please feel free to check them out below:


Common Core Standards: Close Reading in ELA

District Strategic Goal #1: Continuously Improve Student Growth and Achievement

Common Core State Standards English Language Arts Strategy: Close Reading


Close reading is a literary studies practice applicable to all kinds of cultural texts (e.g. films, novels, photographs, plays, etc.). Performing a close reading means making an interpretive argument about a text or texts, through detailed attention to and critical reflection on textual form and detail.

A significant body of research links the close reading of complex text—whether the student is a struggling reader or advanced—to significant gains in reading proficiency and finds close reading to be a key component of college and career readiness. (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, 2011, p. 7)

Close reading assists students with:
• understanding the purpose in reading;
• seeing ideas in a text as being interconnected;
• looking for and understanding systems of meaning;
• engaging in a text while reading;
• getting beyond “surface” reading or skimming;
• formulating questions and seeking answers to the questions while reading.

Guiding Principles
1. Select text worthy of close reading, and study the text to plan the lesson.
2. Make close reading and rereading of texts central to lessons.
3. Provide scaffolding that does not preempt or replace text.
4. Craft text dependent questions from a range of question types.
5. Emphasize that students support their answers based upon evidence from the text.
6. Provide extensive research and writing opportunities (claims and evidence).
7. Offer regular opportunities for students to share ideas, evidence and research.
8. Offer systematic instruction in vocabulary.
9. Ensure wide reading from complex text that varies in length.
10. Cultivate students’ independence.

At Dunlap Grade School, Close Reading is a strategy that is used across grade levels in different ways to help students meet the rigor of the common core state standards. We are seeing students develop the ability to attend to more complex text and analyze it for meaning and purpose.




Common Core Math: What are Tens Frames?

District Strategic Goal #1: Continuously Improve Student Growth and Achievement
Kindergarten and First Grade students work with tens frames on a daily basis. Tens frames are a key tool and strategy for developing foundational math skills and number sense to meet the Common Core State Standards. Learn more about tens frames by watching these short videos:
Understanding that numbers are composed of tens and ones is an important foundational concept, setting the stage for work with larger numbers. A strong sense of “ten” is a prerequisite for place value understanding and mental calculations. Using a ten frame, students can easily see that 6 is 1 more than 5 and 4 less than 10, or that 8 can be seen as “5 and 3 more” and as “2 away from 10.” Once students are able to visualize the numbers 1through 10, they begin to develop mental strategies for manipulating  those numbers, all within the context of the numbers’ relationship to ten.
Ten frames and dot cards can be used to develop students’ subitizing skills, the ability to “instantly see how many”. Two types of subitizing exist. Perceptual subitizing is closest to the original definition of subitizing: recognizing a number without using other mathematical processes. For example, a child as young as two might “see 3” without using any learned mathematical knowledge. Conceptual subitizing is being used when a person sees an eight dot domino and “just knows” the total number. The number pattern is recognized as a composite of parts and as a whole. The domino is seen as being composed of two groups of four and as “one eight”.
Some resources to practice tens frames at home are:

Common Core Math: Standards for Mathematical Practice

District Strategic Goal #1: Continuously Improve Student Growth and Achievement

The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students. These practices rest on important “processes and proficiencies” with longstanding importance in mathematics education. The first of these are the NCTM process standards of problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and connections. The second are the strands of mathematical proficiency specified in the National Research Council’s report Adding It Up: adaptive reasoning, strategic competence, conceptual understanding (comprehension of mathematical concepts, operations and relations), procedural fluency (skill in carrying out procedures flexibly, accurately, efficiently and appropriately), and productive disposition (habitual inclination to see mathematics as sensible, useful, and worthwhile, coupled with a belief in diligence and one’s own efficacy). Source~ 

The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe behaviors that all students across all grade levels will develop in the Common Core Standards. These practices rest on important “processes and proficiencies” including problem solving, reasoning and proof, communication, representation, and making connections. These practices will allow students to understand and apply mathematics with confidence.

Mathematical Practice Standards {Freebie!}. I think that if you laminated it onto a larger piece of poster board and put a Velcro dot next to each standard, you could add an arrow that could be moved around to point to the standard you are working on that day.... :)

Resources for More Information:

Common Core Math Shift #2: Coherence

Strategic Goal #1: Continuously Improve Student Growth and Achievement

Math should make sense. At DGS, we are working to make sure that math just doesn’t make sense in one grade level, but also across grade levels. Math is a progression of learning and the coherence in our math instruction supports the focus we are employing within the curriculum.

Mathematics is not a list of disconnected topics, tricks, or mnemonics; it is a coherent body of knowledge made up of interconnected concepts. Therefore, the standards are designed around coherent progressions from grade to grade. Learning is carefully connected across grades so that students can build new understanding onto foundations built in previous years. For example, in 4th grade, students must “apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication to multiply a fraction by a whole number” (Standard 4.NF.4). This extends to 5th grade, when students are expected to build on that skill to “apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication to multiply a fraction or whole number by a fraction” (Standard 5.NF.4). Each standard is not a new event, but an extension of previous learning.

Coherence is also built into the standards in how they reinforce a major topic in a grade by utilizing supporting, complementary topics. For example, instead of presenting the topic of data displays as an end in itself, the topic is used to support grade-level word problems in which students apply mathematical skills to solve problems. (Source:

Watch the video below to learn more about the importance of coherence:


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