Monday, December 2, 2019

Math and Muffins

Another day, another triumph at Lely Elementary School. Earlier this year, we had an amazing standing-room-only turnout for our morning program, Books and Bagels. A couple of weeks ago, we put on another morning program, Math and Muffins. Now, early morning programs are not all that well-attended in general, especially considering the work responsibilities of our students' parents. We thought that the Books and Bagels success may just be a fluke. Well, we could not have been more wrong.

The media center was packed again. Parents streamed into the library with their kiddos, grabbed a bite to eat, and then settled in for some math pointers from Patti Jones-Ragusa, our math coach. For the second time in two months, we had a standing-room-only crowd in the media center, finding out ways to help their kids and support our school. It was awesome to witness.

I've talked a lot about a rejuvenated spirit here at Lely Elementary this year. When we have successes like Math and Muffins, it breeds success. Suddenly, we expect more. When we expect more, we work a little harder to meet those expectations. The hard work pays off by snowballing into a series of positive events.

We have higher aspirations now. We know we can turn out a crowd for our morning programs and can elicit parent participation at school events. As our community involvement increases, so too will our achievement. We cannot wait to see what successes lie ahead for our kids. We know that our positive attitude toward our school is contagious. This is an awesome year to be at Lely Elementary.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Podcast: Learning at Lely - Episode 4

In this episode, Lely Elementary Academic Coaches Karen Pelletier (Reading) and Patti Jones Ragusa (Math) talk about their roles in the school, special programs they put on, and the challenges of implementing effective reading and math programs in an elementary school. Contact us on Twitter (Don @dayankee or Karen @karenpell13) to collaborate!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Incentivizing Reading

Like any teacher or librarian, I want kids to read for the same reasons that adults read - to grow as people and to have fulfilling reading experiences. Sometimes kids read for those reasons, but a lot of times they don't. In school, kids read for assignments, to take reading tests, or to complete readings assigned by the teachers. This is reading not of their choosing. Often they consider reading a chore that they would rather not do. So how do we get them in the habit of reading? How do we convince them that reading can be fun? How do we show them that reading is fulfilling if they find the right books to read?

One way that we help kids develop the habit of reading is to incentivize reading. Now, we do this because we want to hook kids into reading and, after kids find the books they love, let them read and read and read. So often, kids will not even give reading a shot unless we can somehow hook them. Our incentives often provide that hook. A student may not want to read just to read or complete an assignment, but if there is an incentive or a competition, they often will give it a try.

We have developed a fun incentive program here in the Lely Elementary Media Center in order to encourage more kids to reach their reading goals. First, I got a huge reading trophy that will travel from quarter to quarter to the class that has the most kids reach their reading goals. This quarter, it went to Mrs. Knudsen's class. In addition to keeping the trophy for the quarter, they also received a banner proclaiming them Reading Champions that they will keep forever in the classroom.

Mrs. Knudsen's kids had no idea that they were the reading champions. Principal Tammy Brown and I unlocked their classroom door one morning and were greeted by a stunned group of faces. Mrs. Brown held the trophy high in the air and announced that they were the Quarter 1 Reading Champions. I unfurled their banner to show them. Then, we took a few pictures to commemorate the moment and made the appropriate school announcement. While this class is proud of what they have accomplished, other classes are now vowing to take that trophy away. I think we have started a fun little competition.

We have also incentivized reading individually. Any student who has reached their reading goals is brought to the media center to spin our big wheel. When they spin the wheel, they land on a space that tells them how many prize box items they can pick. Everyone wants to spin the wheel!

While we know that we want kids to read for pleasure and fulfillment, sometimes we have to incentivize them to develop the habit. That's what we're doing here and it seems to be working. Circulation is way up in the media center, kids are reading more, and they are feeling better about their reading. They are seeing reading more and more as something they want to do. Some are doing it only for the incentives, but more of them are figuring out that they really like reading, especially when they find the books they love.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Facebook Read Alouds

One thing that we all know is that kids need and love to be read to. It doesn't matter what age they are, they love it. Adults also like to be read to. Just look at the popularity of audio books. The evidence is clear. For students it is much more imperative that we read to them everyday. The more words that kids hear, the better their reading development. Kids need to read on their own, listen to stories, and read text with audio support. They need to be immersed in language from birth.

Many kids, for one reason or another, don't have someone at home to read to them. Maybe they don't have someone at home who is confident enough to read to them. Maybe they have no books. There are dozens of reasons why kids don't hear stories.

We decided to try to help. This week, we initiated a weekly (hopefully) event where we have a teacher record a reading of a children's book. We upload this video to our media center Facebook page,, so that kids can watch and listen to an adult read them a story. Now, this assumes that a child will have the technology at home to get to our page, and also that they have access to our Facebook page. We are working toward that goal by getting all of our Lely families to "Like" our Facebook page.

This idea is an exercise in outreach. We know that schools are community centers and we have to extend out from the physical building to help kids learn. We have to offer some sort of support 24/7 so that kids have access to learning material. Our Facebook Read Alouds represent just one way that we are trying to accomplish our goal. As the year goes on, we will have a nice collection of read alouds for the kids to use. They also get to see some of their favorite teachers reading them a story whenever they want to watch. We hope that this idea sparks the imagination of kids even while they are away from school.

Our first Facebook Read Aloud was done by Megan Lindburg who read her own book, Conrad the Courageous.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Podcast: Learning at Lely - Episode 3

In this episode, Lely Elementary School counselors Tanja Smith and Nicholas Suarez talk about the Leader in Me program that we are implementing here at Lely Elementary. They talk about how their roles in the school have been tweaked, the buy-in from the teachers and students, and the expectation for the program long-term. Contact us to collaborate. Twitter: @dayankee

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Tents, Passports, and Story Time!

My vision of the media center at Lely Elementary is one where there is always something cool going on. Kids will come down to work, read, build, create, think, invent, innovate, and collaborate. I love when teachers walk through and see the kids deeply invested in what they are doing. They normally take a second look to see exactly what the kids are working on. That's cool. I love that.

One of the ways we're trying to make our media center more kid-friendly is by changing the physical environment. To that end, I made a few reading tents. The idea was that kids could come in and take a book into a tent to read. It would be a more solitary environment for reading, and the kids would like the tent-aspect. I made the tents with PVC pipe and animal print curtains that go along with our media center theme. Well, the tents are a hit. Kids LOVE them! We've got two placed in the media center now and there is one more on the way. The tents represent one step forward in our evolution. 

While we have some hits, we also have a few misses. Since I've never done this before, I am making mistakes, and trying to turn those mistakes into opportunities. It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does. At the beginning of the year, we started giving stickers for each returned book. Well, that turned out to be a whole lot of stickers. A lot! After thinking things through a bit, we decided to create Passports to Reading. We made little passport books for the kids to keep with them. When they return a book, we stamp their passport. We have different stamps so that it's not the same design or logo on every page, but the kids like it because it is like having a passport stamped upon entering another country. We like it because it is cheap :) 

In the morning before school, we have Maker Mornings where kids can come in for a half hour before school starts. During this time, they can read, do homework, or use the MakerSpace. Without a doubt, the MakerSpace is the most popular attraction. However, one morning last week, I looked over into the reading corner to find a fifth grade student with a group of younger kids. When I walked over to see what was going on, I realized that the fifth grader had picked up a puppet and was creating an impromptu story for the younger kids. I watched as he wove a tale about the monkey puppet. The younger kids ate it up. I was reminded that kids can do some really amazing things and I love that this media center offers them an environment where they feel that they can stretch themselves and try new things. That is exactly the environment we are trying to create here!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Kids and Their Dads

We continue to be stoked about the support that we are getting from parents this year. Last week, it was Dads Take Your Kids to School Day. We expected semi-large group of dads to bring in their kids, eat breakfast with them, participate in the short program, and head home or to work. In these times, it is very difficult for parents to schedule time off of their jobs in order to attend school functions. We kept our expectations in check.

Well, our expectations were wayyyy off. We had over 230 attendees that morning! In fact, we had to annex a few other school spaces to accommodate the group. Dads came to school. Boy, did they come in! I think that everyone feels the makings of something special at Lely Elementary School. Our administration is giving us every opportunity to succeed and teachers are spreading their wings. They are using those opportunities to try new things, collaborate differently, and do their best to meet the needs of the students in their classes. There is a tangible, positive vibe at Lely Elementary and the community recognizes it and wants to be a part of it.

Our morning with our dads was the second morning event (along with Bagels and Books) that we held this year and both of those events had overflow crowds. While the huge number of parents may make things tricky logistically, we gladly scramble to accommodate the large group because we know it means more support for the kids. So far this year, we see that investments we are making in the students and community are paying huge dividends and we are enthusiastic about greater things down the road.