Sunday, August 6, 2017

Diagrams: Bringing Visual Learning to a Classroom Near You

By Amanda Kaestner

Your classroom is a melting pot of learning styles—and you might feel overwhelmed trying to meet so many different needs. 65% of people are categorized as visual learners, yet so much of what goes on in the classroom revolves around written and spoken instruction.

Incorporating visuals into your lesson plans might seem like a lot of effort just to cater to one learning style. But it’s not just your visual learners who benefit. We are all visually wired—we actually retain a whopping 80% of what we see and do, and our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Visuals help all students better understand and retain information—in fact, visual aids in the classroom can improve learning up to 400%.

But “visuals” is a vague term, and it’s hard to know how to add this new element to your lesson plans and classroom setup (especially when time is always scarce). As you’re looking to plunge into the world of visuals, diagramming can be the perfect way to get your feet wet. Diagrams offer many different formats for visually representing any type of information in a way that clarifies concepts and engages students.

  • Use a Venn diagram as a new spin when explaining the greatest common factor. 
  • Have students recreate a famous work of art from the time period you’re studying. 


  • Instead of assigning ten pages of reading on the food chain, have students map the flow of energy in a flowchart. 
  • After finishing your class book, check reading comprehension by asking students to build a timeline of the story rather than just asking verbal questions.



With the right tool, these diagrams can be simple for students to make. Lucidchart is a collaborative diagram software that helps anyone clearly understand and share ideas and information, and its product features make it particularly powerful for classroom use.

Ease of use
With an intuitive interface, getting started in Lucidchart is as simple as dragging and dropping shapes onto the canvas or customizing one of the many available templates.

Cloud-based
Lucidchart is accessible from any computer or device, regardless of operating system.

Real-time collaboration
You and your students can share documents with each other and edit them simultaneously. Commenting and chat features make collaboration seamless.

G Suite integration
Lucidchart integrates with Google Drive, Google Docs, and other G Suite programs. Students can insert diagrams into their assignments or submit a link to Google Classroom for you to grade.

Most importantly, Lucidchart is free to educators and students! Here’s how to get started:
1. Sign up for a free account with your educational email address.
2. Log in, click on your username located in the upper right-hand corner, and select “Account Settings” from the dropdown menu.
3. Select “Get a Free Educational Upgrade” in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.
4. Click the link in the confirmation email you receive, and you’re ready to diagram!

For inspiration in getting started, check out these lesson plans and see how other educators have used Lucidchart to bring visual learning to their classrooms.



Amanda Kaestner works with Lucidchart.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Flexible Seating in K-2

At this point everyone has probably heard of flexible seating, am I right?  There are still some who say “no way that is not for my classroom”, but many others who have bought in 100%.  I saw all the social media posts about flexible seating and loved all the changes teachers were making in their classrooms, but was not ready to jump in yet.  In these classrooms you could see how excited, yet engaged their students were with the new seating available to them.

Fast forward to this spring sitting in a professional development session and I was finally sold on flexible seating!  The presenter was positive (and realistic) as she discussed how she used it in her classroom, showed pictures, and even brought examples of seating with her.  The what-if’s and fears were calmed as we learned from the presenter.  Teachers could see a classroom very similar to what they taught in and saw it was working really well.  I was at Walmart, Five Below, and Goodwill that afternoon!   The types of flexible seating in my classroom are yoga balls, sensory cushions, small metal stools, 30” barstools, yoga mats, raised table, desks, traditional desk chairs, folding chairs, and carpet areas.

The first day of flexible seating all of the new seating was set up as students came in to the room.  Their faces were priceless as they looked around the room.  For the first week of flexible seating students had to pick a different type of seat each day and just try it out to learn what worked for them.  Students were in charge of their new seating and were driven to prove they could handle this new privilege.  From the teacher side of things I really had to sit back and watch them explore this new responsibility of not only picking the type of seat that worked for them, but taking care of these items.

Flexible seating did amazing things for the behavior management of my class.  You could hear and see the changes immediately.   There were some students who picked the same type of seat almost every day and others who would rotate different types of seating available.  The biggest fear I had with the younger students and flexible seating was that they would fight over whom sat where.  I never once had this problem!  One student who thought it was a big hit said “plain old chairs aren’t squishy like yoga balls; you can lie on a yoga mat, or stand if you like to stand up”.  If behavior would have been an issue I could have used a sign-up sheet for the seat options.  I will definitely be using flexible seating again and again.  It looks messy and a little chaotic, but the learning that takes place is magical.  

About Melissa Mooney –
Melissa is a classroom teacher and has taught grades 2-5 (in a classroom and a trailer) for the past ten years.  Her two big focuses at the moment are flexible seating and personalized learning.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Engaging & Empowering Educators- Join Us!


NCAEE is proud to host the 14th Elementary School Conference this fall. This year's theme is Engaging and Empowering Educators and our goal is to do just that-- make sure our attendees are highly engaged throughout the conference and leave feeling empowered to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of our students. This, in turn, will lead you to engage and empower your elementary students! Save the dates for October 22nd-24th and plan to attend the a conference specifically focused on elementary school teachers.

Once again, our conference will take place at the beautiful Charlotte-Concord Embassy Suites and Convention Center in Concord, NC. The Embassy Suites features spacious suites with separate living rooms, refrigerators and The Embassy Suites also offers a free, made-to-order, hot breakfast each morning and a nightly Manager's Reception. Staying at the Embassy Suites means you will have a great time, even when the sessions are over. The hotel is offering a reduced rate for our conference attendees so be sure to reserve a room early by clicking here.

Concord, NC is just minutes away from Charlotte and there are many things to do, including Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord Mills, and a variety of different restaurants.

Opening Kick-Off & Closing Celebration

We are mixing things up just a bit! Our conference begins on a Sunday afternoon and ends on a Tuesday afternoon. We will have an opening kick-off session on Monday morning and Dr. Pitre-Martin will bring greetings and an update from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. We are so excited to have her at our event!

For the first time ever, we will have a Closing Celebration on Tuesday afternoon and NCAEE fan favorite, Justin Ashley, will speak. You won't want to leave early and miss this!

It wasn't long after being named North Carolina History Teacher of the Year that Justin Ashley started noticing signs of burnout. He knew he needed to make some radical changes in how he handled his work and personal life. In his session The Balanced Teacher Path, Justin will share his personal story—illuminating how easy it is to give your job everything you've got and leave yourself with nothing outside of school—and will show new teachers and veterans alike the self-care techniques they can employ to create work-life balance and prevent burnout. With equal parts humor and wisdom, Justin will analyze four key aspects of every teacher's life—career, social, physical/emotional, and financial—and offer practical advice to bring these areas into sync, reigniting a passion for teaching in the process!

Luncheon Keynote Speaker

This year's luncheon keynote speaker is highly acclaimed educator- Dr. John Hodge. He will present BE THE ONE! He will discuss how the education of America's youth is a challenging prospect when one considers the many burdens faced by impoverished children and their families. Research indicates that poverty need not be a barrier to academic excellence. As co-author of the book  Standing in the Gap, Dr. Hodge states, "Across the nation, schools are demonstrating that it can be done: That students can reach high standards, that all children can succeed, that the gap between white and minority students, poor and affluent, can be closed." More often than not, one caring adult can make all the difference in the world. Dr. Hodge's presentation will encourage all of us to  BE THE ONE!

Featured Speakers & Breakout Sessions

We have secured a fantastic lineup of featured speakers--Kyle Greene, Rick Jetter, Justin Ashley, North Carolina's Teacher of the Year- Lisa Godwin, The Bag Ladies, and Kathy Bumgardner. Their session titles and descriptions can be accessed here.

In addition to our featured speakers, our conference boasts over 60 breakout sessions. Our Board of Directors has selected a wide range of high-quality sessions with engaging content in the strands of Educator Effectiveness, 21st Century Learning Approaches, Active Learning, and Social Emotional Learning. We are confident our participants will find sessions relevant and will be able to apply what they learn immediately in their classrooms.


On behalf of NCAEE, we wish you a wonderful summer and hope to see you in October!


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Engaging with the Arts

By: Leni Fragakis

As elementary educators, we all know the feeling of impending doom as we become frustrated with the number of standards to teach and the time allotted for instruction.  I have found that the only method to this superfluous standard madness is to integrate the content areas.  Here are some third grade ways to easily integrate science, social studies, and literacy standards by effectively using the arts as a means to weave together learning goals.

I use the Kennedy Center’s definition for Arts Integration as a guideline to creating deeper understanding for my students.  The Kennedy Center’s ARTSEDGE program even has lessons at your disposal!  My goal is to connect inquiry-based learning with arts integration to provide engaging learning opportunities.    


In the science standards for third grade, the reoccurring theme is the Renaissance Man who excels at many things.  An individual who influenced history with his careful examination of his surroundings was Leonardo da Vinci.  Teaching third graders about the Renaissance time period may seem unnecessary, but I have seen the connections generated and the creative understanding promoted.  

The theme of innovation and careful, detailed observation constructed an alternate universe for my students because they too wanted to become like da Vinci.  The classroom culture was transformed as the students learned that da Vinci would not have formulated his ideas about the universe without being reflective, dedicated, and meticulous.  If you have not already, you should view some of da Vinci sketches online or in person at an exhibit.  

In this unit of study, these were the main science objectives, but I do not feel that it is limited to these:

3.P.1 Understand motion and factors that affect motion
Students examined da Vinci’s sketches of catapults, military machines, crossbow, and hydraulics.
Students were provided minimal supplies such as a wooden dowel, paperclips, rubber bands, and a tongue depressor in order to create a marshmallow catapult that would launch the farthest.
After numerous trials, students would sketch (in da Vinci fashion) their catapult for the students in years to come.

3.L.1 Understand human body systems and how they are essential for life
Student will examine da Vinci’s bones and muscle sketches in true Renaissance fashion with dimmed lighting.
Students will use tracing paper to challenge themselves to use as much detail as da Vinci did in tracing his sketches.
Students will make observations about the interactions between bones and muscles.



Possible Literacy Connections
Compare and contrast in a Venn diagram the Mona Lisa and the Head of a Woman
Predict the story behind Mona Lisa’s smile

Study which facts from Magic Tree House Monday with a Mad Genius are true compared to the nonfiction text, Who Was Leonardo da Vinci?
Create, sketch, and write about your own invention and your inspiration to one of da Vinci’s sketches
After reading Magic Tree House, write on the prompt “If I had wings…”  Students wrote their stories on feathers to create class “wings.”


Knowing da Vinci’s ideas were progressive for the times, students will begin to make connections to today’s technological advances and be inspired to create their own inventions.


About the Author
Leni Fragakis has worked at The Arts Based School in Winston-Salem, NC, for five years, teaching 1st, 3rd, and 5th grades.  She has her BA (Elementary Education, minor Special Education), MEd (Literacy), and administration add-on from High Point University.  She is working toward her EdD in cultural foundations and leadership from UNCG.  Published by the International Literacy Association, Leni also presents on her passions of literacy and arts integration at workshops in and out of NC.    






Sunday, June 4, 2017

From Blank Stares to Understanding Main Idea

by: Denise Jones

Have you ever witnessed the blank stare of a student when asked to locate the main idea of a passage or paragraph? It’s all too common, but there could be a simple place where you can backtrack to. It’s a step that students may have missed along the way.


The missing link can be as simple as understanding categories and category titles.  It can be the beginning of making connections to finding the main idea.  The following lesson may seem simplistic, but can be THE THING that brings students to a point of understanding.

First, create an anchor chart with a list of categories but no title.  Students will analyze the list to establish a title.  Then, hand out index cards (which you have created)  that contain category titles.  Some examples are: transportation, seasons, sports, things you shine, types of money, presidents, etc. The students will receive this card with a partner, fold a piece of paper into four squares, and illustrate four pictures that represent this category. At this point, teachers need to emphasize the importance of utilizing details in the pictures.  Each team places their illustrations under an Elmo. The class determines the category title (main idea) from the illustrations drawn (supporting details). Students begin to make the connections, providing a basis for these larger concepts.

At a school in which I coach, third through fifth graders have completed these tasks.  I have seen light bulbs go off, and have noted significant improvement with continued practice.  Our fifth grade scores jumped from a 38% to a 79% on our formative assessments in just three weeks.  No more do blank stares greet me as I discuss main idea and supporting details with these students.


Denise Jones is an award winning educator.  She has twenty-three years of experience in this field, including eighteen years as an Elementary Education teacher and five years as an Instructional Coach. Denise has experience in grading educational portfolios for East Carolina University.  A graduate of William Paterson University, Mrs. Jones has a Bachelor of Arts in both Elementary Education and Sociology and has been a member of the NCAE organization for more than twenty years. Professional highlights include presenting at the NC Teachers of English Association in Asheboro NC, writing a published vignette,  and aiding a school with the Leader in Me process to attain Lighthouse Status through Steven Covey.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

What is the Definition of Common Assessment?

By Jennifer Hardy

Too often educators use the term "common assessment"  "CFA" interchangeably with district assessments and benchmarks.  This communicates a false identity to the purpose, design and research behind common formative assessments.  “[Common assessments are] not standardized tests, but teacher-created, teacher-owned assessments that are collaboratively scored and that provide immediate feedback to students and teachers.” —Douglas Reeves, CEO and founder, The Leadership and Learning Center.  Common formative assessments or CFA's are focused intentional check-ins developed by teachers who are giving the assessment.  CFA's help teachers determine if core instruction was effective based on the the level of rigor and learning criteria the teachers are delivering and assessing.  These assessments are designed through the collaborative efforts during a content grade level professional learning community for the purpose of driving instruction.  CFA's should focus on a few learning targets, aligned to the standards, 5-10 questions per target, with the same criteria for delivery and grading.  Rubrics for learning criteria should be established during CFA development.

Benchmark assessments are helpful for informing instruction and to look for gaps in the instruction, however too much time between instruction has lapsed for immediate formative data.  Nor, are benchmarks typically designed by the teachers giving them to students.  Benchmark data is wonderful for progress monitoring students and establishing the level of questions and rigor that are aligned with curriculum standards.


Students do not have to know it is an assessment!
What can a common assessment look like?

  1. Game
  2. Exit Ticket
  3. Poll
  4. Survey
  5. Anticipation guide
  6. Short Answer
  7. Writing Sample
  8. Daily Essential Question
  9. Group Activity
  10. Learning logs
  11. Summaries
  12. Thinking Maps
  13. Quiz
  14. Various Checkpoints During A Project


Serving Onslow County Schools since 2002, Jennifer Hardy has taught third through sixth grade students.  In her current role as an Instructional Coach, it has truly been an honor to support students and staff across the district.  She has a passion for teaching that is fueled through her zany little girl, Ava.  She is a third-grade product of Onslow County Schools and every decision Mrs. Hardy makes, every battle she chooses to fight, is never initiated without trying to view the outcome through her daughter's big blue beautiful eyes!


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Reader Response Notebooks

By Katie Head

If you are anything like me, organization, fonts, and neon paper make your teacher world go round! I love my Reader Response Notebooks and hope you do too! See the Freebie below to print out your own tabs.

First, I organize my notebooks into four categories: Reading Log, Reader Response, Anchor Charts, and Shopping List.  *For the K-2 teacher, I modified the Shopping List section to a Word Wall.

Set up: When I introduce my journals, I precut my tabs (on neon paper, of course!). I use clear tape to reinforce the tabs after they are glued down. My co-worker laminated them first and it worked just as well. I have students (roughly) count out a different number of pages for each tab; this is based
on a 100-page notebook.

Reading Log: about 15 pages

I teach them how to highlight lines and use quotation marks for repeated titles.

Reader Response: about 40 pages

This is where we do most of our responses and activities after our minilessons. This might include a post-it progression, context clues vocabulary chart, or written responses.

Anchor Chart: about 35 pages

This is pretty self-explanatory… students create their own anchor charts as we review the charts that are up in our classroom. I always let them use colored pencils, markers, etc. and they LOVE it! It is great to encourage these as a reference throughout the year.

Shopping List (and Book Shopping!): about 10 pages

The Shopping List is a place for students to write their “shopping” list for books they would like to read. They make a chart for book titles and author names. My wonderful coworker and I introduce new titles during our Book Shopping Day. (This of course includes shopping bags, sunglasses, and
Madonna’s Material Girl playing in the background. ;) We preview a few texts and the students write the titles down in their Shopping List. Here’s a look at the Google Slides presentation we have up in the background.


Thanks for spending some time learning about my Reader Response Journals. Happy teaching!
Reading Journal Tabs
Reading Journal Tabs 1


Katie Head is a 3rd grade teacher at Barringer Academic Center in Charlotte, NC. Katie has been teaching at 3rd grade at BAC for 3 years.  Prior to that, Katie lived in Chicago. There she taught 1st and 4th grades at Marion Jordan Elementary in Palatine, IL for 8 years. She received her Master’s in Reading through Concordia University in Chicago. Katie iscurrently working on her AIG certification through Queens University