Overlook/Titusville PTA


  • First day


    We can't wait to see all of your smiling faces from the first day. Please email your picture(s) to amlecount@yahoo.com for the yearbook. 

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  • PTA

    Click the link below to 


    Meet the PTA President

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  • Social media

    What's new on social media? Click the links to find out!


    Membership Monday


    PTA Myths vs Truths


    Community Outreach Event


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  • Membership

    "The PTA provides programs on strengthening family-school partnerships. Be a part of a powerful association than can advocate on behalf of children and educators."

    Make a difference today! Please click here to join.


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  • Volunteers needed

    The Overlook/Titusville PTA has been working on some initial plans to get ready for the 2021/2022 school year, and would love to have some more volunteers! Any help you are willing to give is always appreciated, but we do have some specific committees that need a couple of people to keep things running smoothly.  Open committees are:


    • Membership (this is a board position)
    • Spirit wear
    • Poinsettia sale
    • School pictures
    • Book fairs
    • Staff appreciation week
    • Yearbook committee

    The PTA works together on all of these events, so you would have the support of the board as well as any other volunteers! Some of the committee responsibilities include being a contact person with the company, creating a flyer for the event, etc. If you think you might be interested in helping at all, please send an email to the PTA at opstispta@gmail.com, and I will get back to you with more information. I am looking forward to a great school year!


    Jessica Moglin, OPS/TIS PTA President

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  • At the most recent PTA Meeting on February 18, Mrs. Allison Lauchaire gave a presentation about the Equity Team. Please click the link to view her slideshow: Equity Team Update


    The equity team began five years ago in an effort to ensure that all students feel represented and welcomed in our school buildings. One of the goals this year is to increase parent and community voices in our work. This is an effort that goes beyond just our school and we want to ensure that all thoughts are heard and honored.

    To learn more or to join the Equity Team please email opstispta@gmail.com.



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  • Integrating Music Into Social and Emotional Learning

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 6/1/2021

    A strategy for guiding students to identify and manage their emotions with a little help from Muddy Waters, Beethoven, and the Beatles.

    By Edutopia

    Music Image

    Many educators embrace social and emotional learning (SEL) for teaching coping skills. Like visual art activities, music education can play a role in healing, particularly when it’s paired with deep breathing exercises. Music is readily available from sources like YouTube, Spotify, and Pandora, which makes it easy to integrate into the classroom, and research shows that general music program activities like improvisation and identifying emotion through music are effective as a form of social and emotional learning.

    Studies show that children as young as 3 can notice emotions in music and can even recognize “happy” and “sad” in musical excerpts that are just 0.5 second long. These findings are the backbone of practical applications for using music to support SEL in the classroom—and of the following activities that help preschool children learn how to name and regulate their emotions.


    Known as the father of Chicago blues, Muddy Waters was an American blues singer-songwriter and musician. His piece “Louisiana Blues” is a classic in the genre, reflecting sadness and hardship.

    How to use it: Using color cards or colorful objects, ask students to recognize the colors. With the color blue, stop and say, “Some people say they feel this color. They say they feel blue or they have ‘the blues.’ What do you think they mean by that?”

    After the students answer, explain that the blues is a type of music created by African Americans in the southern United States to express sadness and hardship. Explain that sometimes life is hard, it’s OK to feel upset by that, and music can help people get through hard times. As the students listen to “Louisiana Blues,” have them tap a drum or rhythm sticks to keep the beat. Then they can reflect on a time when they felt the blues after putting their instruments away.


    With its iconic fate knocking motif, Beethoven’s Fifth can prompt awareness of strong emotions.

    How to use it: Tell your students to give themselves a big, tight hug. Say, “Hugs are nice. But tight feelings are also a sign that you have a strong feeling. Let’s listen to the music together. If you hear a strong emotion, squeeze the ball.” Pass out squishy objects, like stress balls or stuffed animals. As students listen to the first two minutes of the symphony, have them squeeze the object when they hear a strong emotion. When the music stops, take two minutes to reflect on how to alleviate sensations of tightness brought on by strong feelings: “We just listened to the Fifth Symphony by Ludwig Van Beethoven, which was written for an orchestra—a group of musicians playing together. I could tell you felt the strong emotions in it when you squeezed the ball. Did your hands feel better after letting go of the ball?”

    Tell students that just as their hands felt better when they let go of the ball, they can let go of the strong feeling inside when it happens: They can let go of their strong feelings by taking belly breaths and using words to get help. Since loud crying and angry screaming (temper tantrums) are common in communication among young children, teaching them how to self-soothe and use expressive language prompts growth toward self-regulation.


    Research shows that for autistic children and those who have special needs or language delays, dancing to music without explicit instructions can improve their overall gross motor development and mobility. The Swahili traditional song “Jambo Bwana,” a piece about saying hello and sharing joy and happiness, works well in this context.

    How to use it: Tell students that the song is about saying hello and is from the country of Kenya. Explain that world music includes music in different languages and from different cultures. Ask, “Can you say ‘hello’ in Swahili? Try saying ‘Jambo Bwana’” (“Hello, Sir”). After the students answer, pass out props like colorful scarves (for easier self-expression with smaller motor movements), or forgo props while the students dance to the song. They can then share reflections about how saying hello and seeing people they love can bring happiness.


    The Beatles song “Yesterday” can prompt students to reflect on a time when something went wrong or they made a mistake. When children recall this experience with you, it becomes a powerful interaction—a moment when you deliberately connect with a child while guiding their learning.

    How to use it: Begin by telling children about a made-up recent event where there was disappointment; it could be based on an event in the classroom. For example, “Bella was looking forward to the class field trip to the zoo, but it was canceled when it rained. How do you think she felt? Let’s listen to this piece of music at the art table and draw a picture of the feeling. Do any of you like rock-and-roll music? This is the genre of music that rock bands play—groups of musicians that have a guitarist, drummer, bass player, and singer. Usually the music is upbeat and makes you feel excited. But this song by the Beatles is about feeling melancholy and remembering a time when you made a mistake or did something wrong.” Play “Yesterday” and prompt children to illustrate a time when they experienced disappointment or things didn’t work out as planned.


    The jazz/bossa nova song “Águas de Março” (“The Waters of March”), by the Brazilian songwriter Antônio Carlos Jobim, works well when teaching students that being calm can improve their ability to focus on their surroundings, as well as how to embrace mindfulness.

    How to use it: Ask students to take a deep belly breath, perhaps while ringing a singing bowl. Tell students, “When we feel calm, our bodies are relaxed. And when we’re relaxed, we can notice things we didn’t notice before. Let’s listen to this song and take deep breaths to become more mindful of our surroundings. This style of music is a form of Brazilian jazz called bossa nova, and it has a smooth, sophisticated sound that people can dance or relax to while listening to it.”

    When the song is done, move on to an activity to test students’ new and improved awareness. Tell the students, “Now that we have calm and relaxed bodies, we can see things even better than we did before. Let’s go on a scavenger hunt to find the objects from the song in our room.” Students can go around the room to find objects mentioned in the song (a stick, stone, a hair pin, and a flower).

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  • Too Much Focus on ‘Learning Loss’ Will Be a Historic Mistake

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 5/1/2021

    Learning loss is real and needs to be addressed, but how we go about it should be commensurate with the size of the moment.

    By Edutopia

    5-1 blog

    Despite the understandable skepticism—and all the adjustments and sacrifices we've grown accustomed to—a sort of miracle is materializing in the distance. Published reports from the Centers for Disease Control suggest that the vaccines are doing their slow, steady work. The siege appears to be lifting, and this time a full return to schools across the nation, while perhaps months away, is almost certainly not a mirage.

    Large-scale disruptions like the one that’s ending now are always a hardship, sometimes a tragedy, and often an opportunity. Frequently they’re all three, points out Ron Berger, a former teacher of 25 years, the author of eight books on education, and a senior adviser at EL Education, in his recent piece Our Kids Are Not Broken, published in The Atlantic online.

    “Our kids have lost so much—family members, connections to friends and teachers, emotional well-being, and for many, financial stability at home,” the article begins, sifting through a now-familiar inventory of devastation, before turning to a problem of a different order. “And of course, they’ve lost some of their academic progress.”

    That last issue isn’t trivial. It’s perfectly sensible to worry about academic setbacks during the pandemic. Ever since the first stay-at-home orders were issued, teachers in Edutopia’s community have reported that some students have been pressed into caretaking duties or forced to get jobs, while many others couldn’t get online at all. The crisis first exposed, and then cruelly amplified, the inequities bound up in issues of poverty, race, disability, and rural isolation. Months into the pandemic, attendance and attentiveness remained abysmal. There’s a broad and growing consensus that online learning, in both its hybrid and purely remote forms, has been an anemic substitute for in-person instruction.

    But our obsessive need to measure academic progress and loss to the decimal point—an enterprise that feels at once comfortably scientific and hopelessly subjective—is also woefully out of tune with the moment, says Berger. “I kept hearing about ‘remediating learning loss,’ and I had this vision that school was going to be a place where all the kids come in and get tested and triaged and sent to different areas to get fixed,” Berger told me, almost wincing as he explained why he wrote the article for The Atlantic. The intention is good—but our children are resilient, not broken, “and as long as kids feel like their job is to come to school to be fixed, their hearts won’t be in their own work,” he insists.


    If there’s a pressing need for measurement, it’s in the reckoning of the social, emotional, and psychological toll of the last 12 months. Over a half-million Americans have died. Some kids will see their friends or favorite teachers in person for the first time in over a year. Others will be overwhelmed by the sheer joy of recess, band practice, sporting events, and the myriad academic and social passions they’ve missed. Teachers, too—who have been deeply and unfairly maligned for insisting on safe working conditions—are desperate to see their kids, to connect, teach, elevate and love. The need to rebuild the frayed social fabric of our learning communities, which study after study indicates is foundational to true learning, should be the paramount concern.

    The consequences of getting our priorities wrong and putting the content before the child are serious and long-term. “We fall into this trap of thinking if a kid misses three months of math content, that’s a crisis,” Berger tells me, reflecting on the toll that remediation and tracking often takes. “The truth is that if your kid was sick at home and missed three months of math content, but got her confidence back, it wouldn’t be a big issue in her life. But if her confidence as a mathematician is destroyed because of labels that were put on her, it’s a lifelong issue for her. She’ll never be confident in math again.”

    Whatever we do when we return will be historic by definition. If all we come up with is passing out diagnostic tests to quantify learning loss and then track kids into groups for remediation, it will be a terrible failure of imagination. “You know what’s going to happen to the kids who couldn’t get online last year because they had to support their families or because they were homeless when the sorting happens, right?” asks Berger. “They’re going to be sorted in a way that will only exacerbate the equity issues.”

    Trailing down the backside of a steep mountain at long last, and picking up speed as we head into a promising new year, we seem to have our eyes fixed on the wrong problem entirely.


    We have every reason to know better.

    Already the federal government is requiring that states administer standardized tests, and Berger worries that districts will add other assessments and diagnostics to identify a battery of “student weaknesses.” We should use the data wisely, not “to judge and rank students, teachers, and schools,” he insists, but to guide our response to individual student needs—and spend our time and resources on creating an asset-based culture where everyone belongs.

    Focusing on the social and emotional needs of the child first—on their sense of safety, self-worth, and academic confidence—is not controversial, and saddling students with deficit-based labels has predictable outcomes. Decades of research demonstrates that stereotype threat is a real phenomenon, anchoring kids to the self-fulfilling prophecy of lower expectations.

    Simple gestures like greeting kids at the door, meanwhile, improve academic engagement by 20 percentage points, and the mere presence of images of women in science textbooks moves the needle on inclusion. Ensuring that all kids have at least one adult who cares about them is an effective buffer against adverse experiences like poverty, violence, and neglect. Last year a group of renowned researchers and influential educators including Pamela Cantor, MD, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Karen Pittman published a paper on the science of learning and development that didn’t mince words: “The presence and quality of our relationships may have more impact on learning and development than any other factor.”

    It’s not that learning loss isn’t real, or that social and emotional initiatives alone will solve it. “Districts face a hard reality,” Berger concedes. “Many children lost a great deal of academic growth last year...Districts need to know which students need extra support, including tutoring in and outside the classroom. But educators need to assess students’ abilities in a way that motivates them to grow.”

    But high schools are filled with kids getting Cs and Ds who have “begun to tune out academic instruction,” he writes, and his colleague Uri Treisman, a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin, has conducted research showing “that when students interested in pursuing mathematics were assigned remedial work, it was essentially a dead end for those students’ future in math.” 

    To motivate students now, as at any other time, we have to address learning gaps—they “should learn mathematical facts and build literacy skills”—but do so in service to challenging work that shows them that schools, like the athletic field or their after-school lives, are a “domain where they can contribute something great,” Berger says. “They’ve gotten the message that school isn’t a place where they can do that.”

    It’s an unexpected and even radical idea, but if we make school both welcoming and highly engaging—difficult, even, according to Berger—we stand a better chance of honoring the needs of all children and open up the possibility of connecting kids to topics they feel passionate about as we return to school next year. “Addressing concerns about learning loss by raising difficulty levels may seem counterintuitive,” he says, in one of his most provocative statements, “but with strong relationships and support, this approach can be surprisingly effective.”


    The last 12 months have been a furious, unrelenting assault on the senses. In March of 2020, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, the in-person school year was first suspended, and then abruptly canceled. Many children from historically marginalized communities simply failed to appear online, their absence pointing to enduring, systemic inequities in our school systems. Only a few months later, as our collective sense of dislocation grew increasingly taut and unbearable, George Floyd was killed in Minnesota, setting off months of some of the largest protests in U.S. history.

    Maybe it’s time to consider that the emerging science of learning and our national reckoning with unfairness and inequity are pointing in the same direction. Perhaps the size of the moment requires a commensurate response. We have a better sense of the tools we need to do the job, and a clearer sense of the size and nature of the problems.

    Can we—should we, in the aftermath of the clarifying events of the last year—find the will to challenge the testing regime, return some agency to both our teachers and our students, bring the science of learning into our classrooms, and honor all children with challenging, engaging work that ushers in a new, better, fairer era in education?

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  • 4 Ways to Use Games for Learning

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 4/1/2021

    Research shows that playing games in the classroom can increase student participation, foster social and emotional learning, and motivate students to take risks.

    4-1 Blog

    By Edutopia

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  • The Science of Learning and Development

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 3/1/2021

    The research is clear: Strong relationships with educators help students develop the cognitive skills they need to learn and thrive.


    By Edutopia

    Click here to watch the video. 


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  • 10 New Focused Attention Practices

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 2/1/2021

    Whether students are in class or at home, these quick breaks can help them find calm and prime their brains for learning.

    By Edutopia

    Elementary-aged girl stretches while sitting at her desk in her classroom

    The traumatic conditions of isolation, chronic unpredictability, and physical and emotional distance over the past year are affecting everyone, but children and adolescents are experiencing these effects as they are still developing. Toxic levels of stress can wear out their nervous systems, and they find themselves in elevated states of anxiety, depression, and sometimes hopelessness.

    Our children and adolescents who appear withdrawn, detached, oppositional, defiant, or aloof may often be exhibiting negative behaviors because they are in pain and are responding as their stress response and nervous system dictates. When we feel threatened or unsafe or when something feels unfamiliar, our response is reactive and reflexive. In such moments, students often don’t have the resources to self-regulate.

    When students are able to achieve a calm state, they can think clearly, problem-solve, and create stronger memories of what they are learning with increased attention. To help them find that calm, I recommend regulatory activities called focused attention practices, which provide a stimulus that students can focus upon, including deep breaths, sounds, visualizations, movement, rhythm, art, and sometimes taste.

    Focused attention practices prepare and prime our brains and bodies to create and hold a state of relaxed alertness. They can calm and/or energize the nervous system. They broaden and deepen our awareness while promoting emotional, social, and cognitive well-being for all students and can be integrated into procedures and routines in our classrooms and schools and students’ homes.


    1. Fist Pumping: Have students stretch their arms out, palms up, to each side at shoulder height and hold their elbows straight, and then have them open and close their fists with an energizing breath. I have students do this for 30 seconds and then take a long slow deep breath and do it again for 30–60 seconds. Ask students to focus on their movement and breath. Ask them to flip their hands over and open and close their fists again for another minute. This exercise brings an oxygen flow to the brain and strengthens the nervous system.

    2. Crossing Movements: Have students make a fist with the thumb inside and raise their arms up and slightly out to each side, making a 60-degree-angle V. They inhale with their arms straight, and bend their elbows to cross their fists in front of their forehead on the exhale. Then they straighten their arms and inhale back into the raised-arms V, and then bend their elbows and cross their fists behind their head. Continue with this powerful breath exercise, which releases calcium deposits in the shoulders and improves blood flow to the brain. This is an energizing movement.

    3. Punch and Grab: Have students stand with feet about three feet apart and make fists. One arm at a time, have them reach in front of them, opening their fist on the inhale and closing it and drawing it back to their body on the exhale. They will move back and forth with a powerful inhale and exhale, opening and closing their fists and alternating arms as they pretend to grab something they need. This is much like a boxing movement with one arm at a time, at any speed that feels comfortable.

    4. Blossoming Flower: With the fingertips of both hands touching, students begin by opening their thumbs with a deep inhale and then exhale; as they continue to breathe, they open their forefingers, then middle fingers, the ring fingers; when they come to the pinkies, they pull their hands apart and take the biggest breath as their flowers bloom. As they open each pair of fingers, you can also ask them to say an affirmative sentence such as “I am peaceful,” “I am strong,” “I am ready,” or “I am getting there.”

    5. Frog Breaths: Standing up with their heels touching and toes pointed out, have students squat down and touch the floor with their fingertips. They should inhale when they stand, and exhale when they squat. Aim for 20 repetitions. This exercise energizes students and strengthens the nervous system.

    6. Balancing the Plate: Have students balance a light object such as a paper plate or cup, or even a book, on their heads and hold a variety of poses. They can try balancing on one leg, squatting down, walking, or bending forward as they steady their heads and seeing how low they can bend and still keep the object on their heads. You can try coming up with new poses with students.

    7. Dedicate This One: Have students create an image or write down a few words that they want to share with someone they appreciate. As they think of the person, they should breathe deeply for one minute, mentally expressing their love and their image or words with the thought of this person.

    8. Give Me Yours, and I’ll Give You Mine: Have students write down or draw a worry or concern they have and then fold up the paper and hand it to a friend. As they share their worries, have them breathe together for one minute, breathing in strength and love and breathing out this strength and love to their friend. Whether they share the worry is a choice; if you want students to share these with one another and with the class, you will need to set guidelines and agreements for everyone.

    9. Vision Quest: Have students focus on one specific object in the room or within the setting where they are. After focusing their attention for 30 seconds, have them broaden their gaze and create a gentler, more open vision of their setting. When they do this, their heart rate, respiration rate, and blood pressure will lower.

    10. Reveal: Bring an object to Zoom or the classroom that is covered with a towel or cloth. Hold the covered object with just a small part being revealed in front of the students, and with every deep breath they take, you slowly peel back the cloth, revealing a bit more of the object. After a few deep breaths, they should now see enough to begin guessing in the chat box or by calling out. You can ask how the object is related to your content or to social and emotional learning.



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  • 7 Ways to Infuse Your Curriculum With Hope

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 1/1/2021

    Young people dealing with the effects of the pandemic can be encouraged through lessons that inspire resilience. 

    By Edutopia 
    Science teacher instructing her class while all wear masks
    What is the purpose of school? Many might say it’s to prepare students for their futures. But what happens if students feel hopeless about the future?

    We know that many teens are currently feeling depressed, and what once was met with an eye roll is now met with collapse. In this crazy year, typical teenage stress is compounded with concern about Covid-19, election uncertainty, family strife, social isolation, and any number of legitimate challenges for our entire society. And since all generations are going through this simultaneously, teenagers have fewer adults around them to lean on because parents and teachers are sharing similar feelings of grief.

    It really stinks right now to be a teen.

    So I would argue that, at this time in history, the purpose of school is to help our students maintain hope. The purpose of our classrooms is to reach out our hands and pull our students up from the desolation that comes from feeling like there's nothing they can do to change things for the future.

    Sue Arzola, the principal at South Pointe Middle School in Diamond Bar, California, wrote her dissertation on leading education with hope and discussed her research with me via email. Her work was based on Charles Snyder’s hope theory, which she says examines hope as a “positive motivational state based on a sense of successful agency and the various pathways you take to make it happen.”

    In her dissertation, she stresses that, “especially during difficult times, as administrators and educators, we need to lead with optimism.” She goes on to say, “Hope engages both grit and perseverance as we strive to make our hopes or goals a reality. But hope also engages optimism and self-efficacy, as it includes the belief that the future will be better than the present, and within each of us is the power to make it so.”

    So, in this time when so many of us out there—teachers, parents, and students— are feeling hopeless, how do we reverse it? Can it be done?

    The answer, of course, is yes.

    In fact, schools can play an active and intentional role in developing hope. Much like a smile, hope is contagious. So our classrooms, whether virtual or face-to-face, should be infused with it. Teachers can provide lessons and units to help students recognize their potential influence on the world around them.


    1. Use project-based learning: PBL is all about using what we are learning in school to make an impact on the world beyond school. It helps develop student agency by allowing teens to identify problems they most want to solve. It helps develop students who question by guiding teens to research multiple perspectives and come to their own conclusions. And PBL helps to develop communicators by honing skills like public speaking and persuasive writing.

    2. Teach positive current events: True, hope is different than positivity, but committing to making students aware of positive current events can help create an environment more likely to make students feel hopeful. Help offset the smog of negative news by showing students that there’s good out there, too. CNN’s The Good Stuff newsletter is a great resource.

    3. Study other kids who’ve made an impact: I’m not saying don’t teach about Albert Einstein, but maybe students need to hear about the achievements of someone their own age. School should be all about meaningful learning. Show students that there are teens out there moving the needle in their own communities.

    4. Teach history through the lens of improvement: History occurs in peaks and valleys, but teens haven’t been on this planet long enough to experience or study these patterns with great depth. Focus on teaching moments in history when civilization was pulling itself out of darker eras. Help students see the bigger picture, and help them recognize that our darkest pits are mere moments in time.

    5. Teach hopeful science: I am a California resident, and we’re living through a season of devastating fires. But my science teacher friend reminds me that after fires, the soil can be richer for life to grow. Find those examples in science that support the beauty after the storm.

    6. Promote student activism: Help teens find organizations that might be accepting student volunteers. Whatever their interests or strengths, students can be active in their communities. Doing good for others can help defeat hopelessness. From a local Humane Society to the New Voters Project, students can leave an immediate footprint that does a service for those around them.

    7. Embed mindfulness training: It’s difficult for students of any age to put hard times in perspective. They can’t regulate when to worry. Tweens and teens in particular feel more deeply and more sensitively than people do at other ages. Empower them. Help them to understand what they are feeling, and help them to build strategies to calm the storm in their hearts and heads.

    Hope is about the belief that you can make an impact. Hope is about allowing students agency in their own learning. Hope is about ensuring that students are looking ahead, identifying for themselves what needs to be improved, and giving them the skills and confidence to go out and do it.

    When I look at kids these days, I feel hopeful. When kids go to school, I want them to feel the same.

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  • Low-Tech Scientific Exploration for Students at Home A fifth-grade teacher shares ideas on how students can explore common phenomena with simple materials in and around their homes. By Pete Barnes

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 12/1/2020

    A fifth-grade teacher shares ideas on how students can explore common phenomena with simple materials in and around their homes.

    By Edutopia
    Boy sprays water from garden hose onto car and makes a rainbow.

    Technology is now an essential part of education, as the vast majority of schools are using it to provide remote and hybrid instruction during the pandemic. Even when at school, many students rely more on iPads, laptops, and learning apps than on textbooks, spiral notebooks, and the learning tools of the past.

    But technology has its limits. Wi-Fi goes down, apps sometimes don’t work, and students suffer when they stare at screens for hours at a time. (And that’s not to mention the fact that kids don’t all have the same access to technology.) Kids learning about science remotely, in particular, need opportunities to interact with their surroundings, observe and collect data, and draw conclusions about it.


    I’ve done these activities with my fifth graders, but they can be adapted for most elementary grades, with appropriate parental supervision. Though these activities are designed to mostly avoid screens—one involves taking photos—some technology might come in handy at times: Students can report their findings by taking photos and/or uploading their findings using Padlet or other sharing tool, or answer open-ended questions on a Google Doc or Notability.

    1. Explore sound: Prior to engaging with this activity, ask students to think about this question: What solid material conducts sound the best? They will need a coin and a partner (most likely a parent or sibling in our current situation). Have students choose three or four long surfaces, like floors, walls, driveways, fences, or railings inside or outside their homes. The partner will tap steadily with the coin while the student places their ear directly on each surface. Students draw conclusions from the following:

    • How far away can you get from your partner and still hear the tapping?
    • Which surface do you think transmits sound the best? How about the worst? Why?

    Another way to survey the physics of sound is to have students put some water in a crystal wine glass, wet their finger, and rub it around the edge of the glass. Then they can answer these clarifying questions:

    • Do you hear a high-pitched sound as the glass resonates?
    • If you add more water to the glass, does the pitch go higher or lower? Why?

    Share this hint: Solids, like metal and wood, are much better than air at transmitting sounds because their tightly packed molecules transmit sound waves quickly. Heavier things vibrate more slowly, which creates a lower frequency vibration and a lower pitch sound.

    2. Investigate light: Prior to engaging with this activity, ask students to think about this question: Why do we see rainbows, and how can we bend light? They will need a CD or DVD. Have them tilt the CD or DVD against a bright light, and move it around until the tiny ridges reflect a rainbow. Ask them to draw conclusions from this question: Can you bend or refract light, but without the rainbow?

    Here are some other ways to direct kids to make rainbows at home:

    • Use a prism or a piece of glass with edges to create a rainbow when a bright light hits it.
    • On a sunny day, spray water from a garden hose, find an oil slick, or put a mirror in a glass of water to create rainbows.

    Share this hint: Anytime an object is magnified, like with a magnifying glass, eyeglasses, binoculars, or even a glass of water, it is because the light is bent or refracted.

    3. Inspect force and motion: Prior to engaging with this activity, ask students to think about this question: Which ball has the most inertia? Students can demonstrate inertia at home with several different-sized balls and a cardboard box (the size of a shoe box or larger). Direct students to place the box on the ground and then roll each ball toward the box using a bowling motion. Ask them to draw conclusions: Which ball pushes the box the farthest distance? Why?

    Another way to experiment with force and motion is to calculate speed. For this activity, instruct students to calculate the speed (distance divided by time) of their family members or friends in an outdoor race. Have students measure out 10 meters, or 10 yards, and time how long it takes each person to run the distance, and then calculate their speed. Encourage students to enhance the fun by doing one-legged races or backward races, or partnering up for a leapfrog race.

    Share this hint: Heavier objects have greater mass and inertia, which means when they are in motion they exert more force.

    4. Examine the mysteries of life science: Prior to engaging with this activity, ask students to think about this question: What makes things disappear once they die? They will explore the great outdoors (or at least a yard or park). Direct students to search their neighborhood or local park for mushrooms and other decomposers. They can turn over old logs or large rocks to find worms, beetles, and roly-polies (isopods) eating up dead matter. Ask them to take photos of all of the different kinds of decomposing matter they find, and remind them to be sure to record the dates and pay close attention to the signs of spring starting.

    Another life science idea requires students to make observations. Have students answer these questions in a nature journal:

    • What trees or plants in your neighborhood show signs of spring first?
    • What colors do you see blooming?
    • What about birds or other animals?

    Share this hint: Decomposers like fungi, worms, beetles, and bacteria break down dead things and add them back to the soil.

    Kids enjoy science, but they don’t always remember that science is all around them. Get them out there searching and collecting scientific evidence, and remote or hybrid school will feel a lot more fun.

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  • Moving From the Comfort Zone to the Challenge Zone

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 11/1/2020

    By Edutopia

    When we are faced with challenges, our brains are activated to learn new things—so long as a foundation of safety, belonging, and trust is there as well.

    Moving From the Comfort Zone to the Challenge Zone

    Click here to watch the video


    This video is part of the How Learning Happens series, which explores teaching practices grounded in the science of learning and human development. 

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  • Why Ages 2-7 Matter So Much for Brain Development

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 10/1/2020

    An illustration concept of a child internalizing knowledge

    Rich experiences—from play to the arts and relationships—fundamentally shape a young child’s development.

    By Edutopia

    When Albert Einstein was a child, few people—if any—anticipated the remarkable contributions he would make to science. His language development was delayed, worrying his parents to the point of consulting a doctor. His sister once confessed that Einstein “had such difficulty with language that those around him feared he would never learn.” How did this child go from potential developmental delays to becoming, well, Einstein?

    Part of the answer to that question is symbolized in two gifts that Einstein received from each of his parents when he was 5 years old. When Einstein was in bed all day from an illness, his father gave him a compass. For Einstein, it was a mysterious device that sparked his curiosity in science. Soon after, Einstein’s mother, who was a talented pianist, gave Einstein a violin. These two gifts challenged Einstein’s brain in distinctive ways at just the right time.

    Children’s brains develop in spurts called critical periods. The first occurs around age 2, with a second one occurring during adolescence. At the start of these periods, the number of connections (synapses) between brain cells (neurons) doubles. Two-year-olds have twice as many synapses as adults. Because these connections between brain cells are where learning occurs, twice as many synapses enable the brain to learn faster than at any other time of life. Therefore, children’s experiences in this phase have lasting effects on their development.

    This first critical period of brain development begins around age 2 and concludes around age 7. It provides a prime opportunity to lay the foundation for a holistic education for children. Four ways to maximize this critical period include encouraging a love of learning, focusing on breadth instead of depth, paying attention to emotional intelligence, and not treating young children’s education as merely a precursor to “real” learning. 


    Young children need to enjoy the process of learning instead of focusing on performance. Educators and parents can emphasize the joys of trying new activities and learning something novel. We need to help children understand that mistakes are a welcome, normal part of learning.

    This period is also the time to establish a growth mindset—the belief that talents and abilities are developed through effort instead of being innately fixed. Educators should avoid labeling children or making universal statements about their ability. Even compliments such as “You’re so smart” are counterproductive. Instead, emphasize persistence and create safe spaces for learning. Children will learn to love learning if we show enthusiasm over the process rather than fixating on results. 


    One way to avoid focusing on results during this phase of development is to emphasize the breadth of skill development over depth. Exposing children to a wide variety of activities lays a foundation for developing skills in a range of fields. This is the time to engage children in music, reading, sports, math, art, science, and languages.

    In his book Range, David Epstein argues that breadth of experience is often overlooked and underappreciated. Focusing on excellence in a single activity may be appropriate at some point in life. But the people who thrive in our rapidly changing world are those who first learn how to draw from multiple fields and think creatively and abstractly. In other words, our society needs well-rounded individuals.

    Well-roundedness is especially important for children from ages 2 to 7. Their developing brains are ready to soak in a wide range of skill sets. This “sampling period,” as Epstein calls it, is integral. This is the window during which to develop children’s range. There is plenty of time for them to specialize later.


    Yes, we want children to read well and learn the fundamentals of math. But we should not disregard emotional intelligence. The advantages of learning during this first critical period of brain development should extend to interpersonal skills such as kindness, empathy, and teamwork.

    Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain the importance of developing children’s empathy in their book The Whole-Brain Child. Empathy begins with acknowledging one’s feelings. Therefore, they suggest helping children in this age group to first label their emotions (“I feel sad”) and then tell the story about what made them feel that way (“I feel sad because I wanted ice cream and you said no”). Once children practice labeling emotions, educators can start asking questions that encourage them to consider others’ feelings.

    One way to encourage care for others is to include children in what adults do for others. Even allowing young children to help with chores can make them more helpful and considerate people.


    Children’s brains can uniquely absorb information during this critical phase. If intelligence is defined as the ability to learn, children between the ages of 2 and 7 may be the most intelligent humans on the planet.

    Research suggests that some skills cannot be learned nearly as well after this first critical period of brain development. For example, research shows that children in this age range are best suited to learn the patterns of language development, enabling them to master a second language to the same level as a native language. However, once children reach age 8, their language learning proficiency decreases, and second languages are not spoken as well as native ones. The same age effect is found when learning musical abilities such as perfect pitch.

    It is noteworthy that Einstein’s parents did not enroll him in physics lessons—the field that would lead him to a Nobel Prize. Instead, Einstein’s father included him in his work as an engineer. His mother signed him up for violin lessons because she wanted him to love and appreciate music. Both activities worked to develop his young mind holistically. It is tempting to think of early childhood education as a precursor to “real” education. But these may be the years that matter most. 



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  • 4 Strategies to Help Students Feel Calm During Distance Learning

    Posted by Jenny Fox on 9/1/2020

    Boy drawing a picture with markers

    Ways to guide elementary students to regulate their emotions and feel connected to their teacher and peers so they’re ready to learn.

    By Edutopia

    As I work with families, educators, and students during this pandemic time, we’re trying to figure out how to do school in a way that feels safe, comprehensive, and doable with limited technology and internet accessibility. The traumatic conditions of isolation, chronic unpredictability, and physical and emotional constraint are affecting all of us at some level. How do children express their feelings of abandonment, loss, grief, and confusion? How do adults express these feelings? Often, our behaviors tell our stories, signaling the pain we can barely speak of or understand.

    The therapist Bonnie Badenoch says that “the shards of these accumulating experiences that linger in our muscles, belly, hearts, brains, and body systems gradually shape our perceptual systems and how the world looks.” We can plan distance learning curricula, create new ways of presenting content, and innovate our assessment protocols for virtual learning, but with so many unknowns in this time, students’ emotional and social well-being must be a priority.

    Below are strategies and mini brain-aligned practices intended for distance learning that prepare the brain and body for a calm regulated state, improved focus, and attention. They are ways to create touchpoints—moments of connection—and to release anxiety and build a strong sense of connection in a class.


    1. Express Yourself: When we can share our sensations, thoughts, and feelings, we feel a sense of relief, safety, and calm, and artistic expression is one of the most powerful ways to regulate our nervous systems during stressful periods of time. The teachers I work with have used these questions before distance learning lessons, sharing them in packets sent home so students can have some time to express how they feel before the academic part of the lesson. These questions are also great discussion starters that families can use to explore children’s emotions. 

    • What are two images or pictures that pop up in your mind when you think of this pandemic? What do these look like, sound like, smell like and feel like? Can you draw them, write about them, or act them out?
    • What are two ways this pandemic has affected you and/or your family? Can you express them through images or words?
    • How does your world feel different now compared to six months ago?
    • We cannot see the virus, but imagine that you can. What does it remind you of, and how does it look? What are its colors, its lines? If this virus could talk, what would it say? What would you say to this virus?
    • If you could help create a better world as we go through this pandemic together, what is one change you would like to help create or see? What would your plan look like?

    2. Dual Drawings: Students working with a peer, the teacher, or a parent can create a shared drawing as each takes a turn and draws a line or shape and then passes the drawing to their partner to add their line or shape to the drawing within a specified amount of time. Each partner can add shapes, lines, and color and can observe how this shared activity produces a collaborative design. When I have done this, we usually create together without talking—when the time is up we discuss our creation.

    This activity can be shared with students through packets sent through the mail over a longer period of time. The teacher can begin the drawings and send them home to students as a weekly or biweekly design unfolds. Once students have the starter drawing, they can also mail it back and forth to each other, rather than sending it to the teacher. The key step of reflecting on and discussing the creations can happen throughout the process by having students write short journal entries about what they added and why.

    3. Dual Story Writing or Journaling: This activity designed for closure is similar to the dual drawings except we create a story together. This story could be created with images or words and could be a 30-minute, one-day or weekly family activity, or a distance learning collaboration. A student and a peer, the teacher or a parent can write a fictional story together, or create a dual journal by writing alternating entries to share experiences from their daily lives.

    4. Brain Scavenger Hunt: This creates movement, shared and expressed feelings, and connection, and it can be a family ritual or a part of distance learning if students have an internet connection and a device. I have played this through Zoom with fifth-grade students, asking them to find objects around their home that answer these five brain-aligned questions in a specified amount of time. We place our responses on a Padlet so everyone can share what they discovered.

    • Can you find something in your home that can change its shape, is malleable, and stretches like our brains when we learn something new? This represents the brain’s amazing neuroplasticity—our experiences structurally and functionally change our brains, and we are always growing and learning, repairing and healing.
    • Can you find something that feels calming and soothing to you? When we calm our nervous systems, we open up the regions of the brain that can self-regulate, think clearly, remember, and pay attention.
    • Can you find and share something in your home that stresses you out? What you can name, you can tame. For this question, students can draw a picture or write out their answer if it’s not practical to bring the actual object to the Zoom call—for example, if the stressor is the student’s sibling.
    • Can you find something in your home that creates a memory for you? What experience does an image, or an object invoke that creates feelings of joy or peacefulness?
    • Can you find and share something in your home that makes you feel smarter and more focused?
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