Monday, December 31, 2012

I Believe in Me!

This was the feeling our fourth and fifth grade learners experienced as they took center stage during our Enrichment Cluster Showcase on Thursday, December 20, 2012.  Throughout the day, our learners demonstrated poise and grace as they greeted visitors from our school, our district, and our community.  They confidently shared their learning with our guests, and took great delight in passing that learning on to our younger students.  I was incredibly proud of their efforts and very thankful for the opportunity I had to share in the joy of their learning.  A huge thank you goes out to the cluster facilitators who have worked each week with these young learners to help them discover their passions, explore their interests, and create new learning.

The excitement will continue as we move into January!  Our 2nd and 3rd grade teachers have already begun training as we prepare to bring the cluster experience to our younger learners!  Stay tuned for more details to come!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Enrichment Cluster Showcase...It's Almost Here!

Our fourth and fifth grade learners are eagerly making final preparations for the Enrichment Cluster Showcase that will take place this coming Thursday, December 20th in the Austin Elementary library.  Kiddos are busy putting  finishing touches on websites, video productions, clay creations, and so much more. They are incredibly proud of their accomplishments, and are looking forward to sharing them with their school and community.

I hope you will join us on Thursday as we showcase the talents of our learners and celebrate the effort, enthusiasm, and passion they have poured into the cluster experience.

Grade Enrichment Cluster Showcase:

Date: Thursday, December 20, 2012
Time: 8:00a.m. - 9:00a.m. 
Location: Austin Elementary Library

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Enrichment Clusters Showcase: You're Invited!

 The excitement is growing as our fourth and fifth grader learners continue to develop new talents and skills while exploring new concepts in their areas of interest during our 4th/5th grade Enrichment Clusters.  The clusters are in full swing, and our learners are digging deep as they work together to create products and /or services that reflect not only the passion they have for their work, but also the learning that has occurred as a result of that work.

 In our "Science of Magic" cluster, our learners are busy creating a video in which they will not only amaze us with the wonders of magic, but also explain the scientific principles that are at work to make that magic happen.  Our "Why Knot Woodworking" group has a surprise in store as they finalize their work on a special addition to our campus.  Down the hall a group of learners are in a "Fitness Frenzy" as they discover the importance of exercise and proper nutrition in maintaining a healthy outlook in life.

 I can't wait to see what these learners, and so many more, have to share with us during our upcoming Enrichment Cluster Showcase which will take place between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, December 20th in the Austin Elementary library.  All are welcome to join us as we celebrate the accomplishments of our learners and honor their efforts over the last several weeks.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Enrichment Clusters: Finding Depth in Authentic Learning

As you know from my previous post, enrichment clusters are up and running here at Austin Elementary.  One of the benefits clusters brings to the learning environment is the depth at which they allow our learners to explore their interests.  During cluster sessions, learners are challenged to use authentic methods and advanced vocabulary as they develop their talents, nurture their creativity, and learn what it means to think, speak, and act as a professional.

In order to incorporate this level of depth into the cluster environment, five primary components must be in place:

1. Clusters are student driven.  They are guided by the interests, passions, and ideas of the learners.

2. Clusters incorporate authentic methods.  Learners are given the opportunity to explore how a real professional with an interest in this area might think, act, and speak.  They are exposed to the "tools of the trade" and are given the opportunity to use these tools in authentic ways.

3.  Clusters expose learners to advanced vocabulary within their area of interest.

4.  Clusters provide an opportunity for students to explore real world applications of their area of interest as they develop a service or product to be shared with the community.

5. Clusters encourage learners to develop pride in their accomplishments as they share their product or service with an authentic audience.

I invite you to come visit us between 8:00 and 9:00 on Friday mornings to see for yourself how the educators and learners at Austin Elementary are making this magic happen!  To arrange a visit, simply contact Liz Malone at 214-496-7335 or by email at

Enrichment Clusters...the Vision Expands!

Step into any fourth or fifth grade classroom on Friday mornings, and you will find a group of learners engaged in conversations and activities designed to help them understand how they can use their talents to create products and services that will benefit the world around them.  Educators are facilitating these conversations as they guide their learners to contemplate how their interests and talents could be used to benefit an authentic audience in our community.  This is the world of enrichment clusters, where learners have an opportunity to pursue an area of passion and develop a a deep understanding of how this passion can be used in the real world.  View the presentation below to catch a small glimpse of what this looks like on our campus.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Building Relationships Through Moments of Discovery

E-Time is an incredibly special time here at Austin Elementary for a variety of reasons...learners pursuing their passions, educators facilitating talent development in their classrooms, enrichment happening in every corner of the building.  It is truly an amazing time.  However, one of the most treasured parts of E-Time for me is seeing the relationships that are being developed as educators, learners, administrators, and community members all come together to help kiddos discover their dreams! As I walk around the building each week, I see young children helping each other learn new skills.  I enjoy the laughter of learners and educators, as together, they try new skills, take risks, fail...and try again, overcome obstacles, and simply bask in the joy of learning.  I watch in awe as moms and grandmas patiently guide small hands and curious minds through new learning.  Enjoy the video below which  provides a small glimpse into the many "moments of discovery" that are happening each week.


Red Ribbon Rally - Drugs Don't Make Sense!

Fifth grade students at Austin Elementary recently had the opportunity to travel to the state capital in Austin to participate in a Red Ribbon Rally  supporting a drug free Texas.  After arriving at school at 4:45 a.m., students traveled to Austin where they joined other young learners from across the state in a March to the Capital.  There they were welcomed by Drug Enforcement Agency representatives who spoke to them about the importance of staying drug free.  They were also treated to a performance by HYPE, an inspirational anti-drug Hip-Hop dance group.  Students learned about the history of the Red Ribbon event and together, pledged to remain drug free and follow their dreams.

As part of the experience, fifth graders were asked to draft a legislative bill related to the impact of drug use on the children of Texas.  Our learners created a bill (shown below ) that spoke to the effect of smoking and second hand smoke on young children and on our environment.  The bill called for the prohibition of smoking in public parks and forests.

Be Drug Free
Prevention of Smoking in Public Parks
                  An act concerning the use of smoke in public parks
4.      A person may not be able to smoke in any public parks or forests.
                                                      Why legislation is needed:

It will increase safety: Animals could get injured by eating or coming in contact with it. The risk of fires will increase. There will be secondhand smoke for other park visitors. It will decrease litter and air pollution.

Consequences if not passed: 

If this bill is not passed, there will be a greater chance for forest fires. Our parks will also be less attractive and enjoyable for non-smokers.  The safety of children, animals, and plant life will decrease because there is greater risk for burns and secondhand smoke. In summary, not passing this bill will lead to more dangers to our community and the environment.

  After the rally, learners from across the state of Texas participated in a mock legislative session in which they defended their bills and participated in a legislative debate about each.  Our learners represented us well as they spoke passionately and effectively about their views.

                                                     Austin Elementary Fifth Graders
 gather on the lawn before the March to the Capital.                                                                
 A huge thank you goes out to Dandi Wright Nance, who organized this event for the state of Texas. Mrs. Nance is Vice President at Sherry Matthews Advertising in Austin whose client, The Partnership for Drug Free Texas, sponsors this annual event. The children and families of Texas are grateful to Sherry Matthews Advertising, The Partnership for Drug Free Texas, and Mrs. Nance for their efforts in helping to spread the message that "Drugs Don't Make Sense!"


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

E Time: Our Learners Speak Out

I have tried many times to describe what we mean by the term "E-Time."  I have spoken to colleagues,  parents, community members, education gurus, family members...anyone who will listen....but what I have found is that it is a difficult concept to put in to words.  So this week, I decided to let our kiddos give it a try.  Who better to explain what is happening in E-Time than the experts...the kiddos who are making it happen.  I hope you will take a few minutes to view the video below and hear what these "experts" have to say.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wading Deeper Into the E-Time Pool

Touring Austin Elementary last Friday morning was a lesson in adventure, as I had the opportunity to witness so many authentic, engaging learning experiences taking place in our classrooms.  From kindergarten to fifth grade, educators all over the building were responding to Mr. Hilton's challenge to "wade deeper into the E-Time pool."  The energy was palpable as the learners were captivated by the various challenges set before them.
Of course, with my background in the world of science, I was particularly drawn to the sprinkling of science questions that some of our younger explorers were investigating.  In kindergarten, students were using their powers of observation to collect data about several mystery objects.  After using their senses to collect the data they needed, these young scientists then made bold conjectures about what the objects might be.  The conclusions may not have always been accurate, but the learning was right on track!

 From there, I moved to first grade where keeping boats afloat was the goal of the day.  Learners in first grade were eagerly exploring the buoyancy of a variety of objects and making predictions about which objects would sink and which would float.  Others were involved in a collaborative effort to design a boat that would support the biggest load of marbles without sinking.  I'm wondering if we are witnessing the emergence of some future engineers!

Finally, I headed into third grade where I found towers made of  spaghetti  being constructed in Mrs. Burton's class, as student engineers attempted to design the tallest tower possible that would still support the weight of a marshmallow.  These tasty towers were a sight to see!  I heard lots of great conversations about structure and foundation, but I believe these young learners are still working on this daunting task.

In Mr. Wu's class, I had to take cover as the learning EXPLODED throughout the room!  These young scientists were investigating the effect of combining Alka Seltzer and soda in a closed system.  The learners were forming hypotheses and even identifying variables as they systematically made changes to their design.  In fact, they were so excited, they even brainstormed a list of questions they want to explore next week!

As you can see, the learning during E-Time last Friday abounded!  The students were engaged, excited, enthusiastic...I could go on and on!  And through it all, they were EXPLORING...LEARNING...INVESTIGATING...and loving every minute of it!

Clusters are Coming

The excitement is building as we draw closer  to the debut of enrichment clusters at Austin Elementary!  The educators in fourth and fifth grade, along with a few recruits from our various support teams, have been working hard over the last several weeks to prepare for "Opening Day" on Friday, October 26th.  Together, these educators have been exploring the interests of their learners and brainstorming ways to embed these interest areas into enrichment clusters that are full of engaging, authentic, student driven learning experiences coupled with real world problem solving opportunities and collaboration among various age groups.

Top Interest Areas – 4th/5th Grade

Robotics                     Movie Making
Pottery / Clay             LEGOS
Sports                        Digital Animation
Music                        Wood Working
Cooking                    Strategy Games / Logic
Pets                           Magic
Acting                       Comedy

Through a series of four professional development sessions, these educators explored a variety of questions surrounding the development of effective, authentic enrichment clusters.  Topics have included components of effective enrichment clusters, the purpose of enrichment clusters, strategies for embedding authentic methods, products, and audiences, and much more!

To learn more about what these educators experienced, visit our SEM Google site at

Monday, September 17, 2012

Welcome Visitors!

Austin Elementary was privileged to have one of our school board members, Tracy Fisher, join us this past Friday as we not only enjoyed our E-Time experiences, but also celebrated "International Dot Day!"  I had the opportunity to accompany Mrs. Fisher as she visited our classrooms and saw some of the exciting enrichment activities that were taking place.  Together, we enjoyed observing the students as they explored various areas of interest, and were impressed to see how the "Dot Day" message to "make your mark" was being incorporated into the enrichment activities.  Mrs. Fisher stated that she was, "so impressed by how engaged every student was during E-Time."  I couldn't agree more!   The hallways were abuzz, and the smiles on the students' faces were absolutely contagious!  Thank you, Mrs. Fisher for joining us.  We were honored by your visit!

If you would like to join us for an E-Time visit, please contact me by phone at 214-496-7335 or through email.  My email address is

Make Your Mark!

In his book, the Dot, Peter Reynolds encourages children...and let go of their fears and simply "make their mark."  The Dot is a simple, heartwarming story of one little girl's journey toward self discovery and creative expression.  In honor of The Dot, September 15th has been recognized as National Dot Day.  On that day, we recognize the importance of acknowledging and celebrating the creative spirit inside each of us.   Here at Austin Elementary, we decided to celebrate a day early.  On Friday, our hallways and classrooms were filled with dots!  Big dots, little dots, bright dots, multicolored dots, even three dimensional dots!  We went dot crazy!  Of course, we couldn't resist the temptation to pull the dot theme into E-Time, so today, I enjoyed a multitude of "dot activities" as I visited classrooms during that very special hour of our week.

Kindergarten students enjoy some delicious fun as  they sort different colored candy Dots!

Did you notice the beautiful dotted headbands.  Here they are during the manufacturing process...

Just look at that concentration!

Dominoes construction...dots everywhere!

 They may not have their names in lights...but this is certainly the next best thing!

Strategy games are filled with dots!  Who knew?

Battleship...dots, math, strategic thinking, and fun all in one place!

Pentago!  Can you out think your opponent?

Fourth graders spent some time brainstorming how the message of The Dot could be captured in pictures.  

They found something!  Fourth graders scoured the hallways of Austin Elementary looking for examples of The Dot in action.  These young men are using their IPADS to capture an image of creativity at work.  I can't wait to see what they came up with!

A fun time was had by all as we celebrated "Dot Day" here at Austin Elementary.  More importantly, students...and teachers...were reminded of the tremendous impact each of us can have on those around us if we just have the courage to "Make a Mark!"  I challenge you to make your mark this week.  How will the lives of the people you meet be different because they spent some time with you?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

SEM: The Journey Continues!

The new school year brings with it new teachers, fresh haircuts, new school supplies, and bright smiles as students and teachers eagerly make their way back to the classroom.  At Austin Elementary, the start of the 2012-2013 school year brings with it something more...a new step in our journey toward total school wide enrichment.  This year, we are so excited to continue our weekly E-Time tradition as all students and staff participate in some type of interest based enrichment activity for one hour every Friday morning.   More importantly, we are looking to expand the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) through the implementation of multi-age Enrichment Clusters.  As part of this renewed vision, we are hoping to include even more parent and community volunteers to join the fun!  Over the last couple of weeks, students and parents throughout the building have been eagerly completing a variety of interest surveys  and talent portfolios in preparation for the start of of this year's E-Time adventure.

Already, I have seen some exciting enrichment activities taking place in the classroom. This past Friday, I was amazed as I walked around the building and found our Austin Mustangs engaged in so many different learning opportunities.  Friendship salad in kindergarten, science experiments in first grade, animal exploration in second...the list goes on and on!  I  spoke with a third grader who couldn't wait to show me her origami creation, and watched in awe as some fourth graders demonstrated amazing thinking skills while working on strategy games of all kinds.  Fifth graders were working on lots of different activities.  Some were involved in arts and crafts, while others were outside working on fun and fitness during a kickball game.  Another group of fifth graders was learning how to use PowerPoint to create digital cartoons.  Amazing!

As exciting as it all is, SEM goes much deeper than mere fun and games.  It is about helping kids identify their strengths and recognize their talents.  It is about igniting within them a passion for learning, and helping them to understand the power they have to use that passion to impact their world.  It is about empowering kids to take charge of their own learning and acknowledging that they have ideas of their own...good ones!  It is about guiding them to give back to a world that has given so much to them.  One student summed it up well.  When asked by his teacher, "How can we give back to the community through a magic cluster?" he innocently replied, "We can turn all the poor people into rich people!"  Naive?  Maybe...but you can't beat the enthusiasm.  You can't teach a child to show that kind of compassion.  You can only help him to discover it!
If you are interested in joining us on our SEM journey, I would love to show you the way.  Feel free to contact me by phone at 214-496-7335 or by email at

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Year 1 is in the books!

What an amazing journey we had this school year!  Our staff did such an incredible job of implementing the philosophies of SEM not only during E-time but throughout the instructional day.  That was truly exciting to witness.  Next year, we are ramping things up with enrichment clusters. Learn a little more about enrichment clusters by checking out the link below.

A Time and a Place for Authentic Learning

Speaking of next year, I have decided to return to the traditional classroom as a 4th grade teacher here at Austin.  I have thoroughly enjoyed my role at the beginning of our schoolwide enrichment journey but feel called back to the traditional classroom teacher role.  Ms. Liz Malone, former 4th grade teacher, will be taking over the GT/Enrichment position and become the new author of this blog.  I know she will rock!

Have a fantastic summer!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

2nd grade needs your help so they can help Operation Kindness!

As you may remember from previous posts, one of our 2nd grade E-time groups has become very interested in helping local animals.  It started with the sale of their handmade bracelets with the proceeds going to Operation Kindness. Now that group wants to take it even further.  In addition to the money they have raised, they would also like to be able to take basic pet supplies (for cats and dogs) to the shelter as well.  Some items that they are looking for include:
  • toys 
  • treats
  • blankets
  • collars
  • bowls
If you are willing to send in any of the above items (gently used or new), then let me know or contact Ms. Busby ( who is in charge of that E-time group.  Thanks in advance!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Awesome April

We have a fantastic group of students who come from CHS each week to work with and mentor some of our students.  Since we had an adjusted schedule last Friday due to our assembly, those CHS volunteers ended up helping with e-time!  This young man is assisting a kindergarten student with an art project.  Upstairs in 5th grade, one of our CHS volunteers filled in last minute for an absent student during the mock trial of Goldilocks.  We are lucky to have high school student volunteers who are so willing to step in and do what they can to help!  What wonderful role models!

Many of our 1st graders are still interested in learning more about pets.  This young man has begun a model of a duck.  Once the model magic has dried, he plans to paint it to look just like a real duck.

Service + SEM = real world learning!
These 2nd graders have been diligently learning about weaving so they could create quality friendship bracelets to sell to their fellow students.  The group decided that all proceeds from the sale of the bracelets will go to Operation Kindness, north Texas' oldest and largest no-kill animal shelter.  At last count, they had taken over 50 orders!

We often think of art as a solitary activity but these 2nd grade students are learning the joy of creating art together.  They came up with a common theme for their mural and each person is adding their own touches.

Volunteers make e-time even better!  These 4th grade students greatly benefited from the chance to work with one of our best volunteers.  They were trying to figure out why they couldn't get the motor to work in their robotics kit.  He guided them to the solution through questions but never gave them the answer.  They did it on their own!

Just as I did with the 4th grade music e-time group several weeks ago, sometimes we need another staff member to fill in the facilitator role for an e-time group.  While Mrs. McConnell was attending a conference, Mr. Hilton gladly stepped in to work with the 4th grade arts and crafts group.  I think he's trying to figure out the secrets to successfully threading a needle here.  This e-time group is working on custom notebook covers with felt.  Check back soon for pics of the finished products!

This 5th grade student is hard at work on a personalized treasure box.  He explained that it's important to line the inside of the box to protect all the important things you put in when the box gets jostled around.  It looks like a time consuming task to create on but I imagine that a lot of people would be interested in their own personalized treasure box.  A potential business opportunity?

5th grade needs you!!!

Our 5th graders are beginning career exploration during e-time and need volunteers who are willing to share about the ins and outs of their jobs.  Our 5th graders have a wide variety of interests when it comes to careers so we are open to hearing from people with all kinds of jobs!  They will want to learn about the education and training needed for the job as well as the day to day tasks of that career.  A short presentation (30-45 minutes) with some kind of visual aid (PowerPoint, website, models, etc...) is preferred.  They need speakers for the following dates: May 4, May 11, May 18.   A cleared background check is also necessary.  Interested?  Contact Mrs. Kirby via e-mail at

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Before the long weekend...

...let's take a peek at the e-time happenings across the building today!

Future bakers in kindergarten learn about the importance of following a recipe while having a little fun by making a tie-dyed cake!

1st graders most certainly can do independent research.  These young ladies are passionate about animals and want to learn more about some of their favorites.

 While creating works of art can be enjoyable in and of itself, these students want to share their efforts by creating personalized picture frames for friends and family.

There is a great story behind this photo.  These young men had originally planned on building with LEGO pieces today but there were none available.  They were very disappointed.  However, their amazing teacher, Mr. Wu, had an idea for them.  Try taking an old box or other recyclable item and create something out of that.  They were initially skeptical but gave it a shot.  With lots of teamwork, cooperation, and creativity, they built a deluxe two story home complete with a rooftop pool.  Look at how proud they are of what they accomplished by working together!

 These students found a way to incorporate their study of physical changes with the upcoming holiday.  They made observations about the eggs before they were hard boiled and then after.  Of course, the funnest physical change to observe was coloring them!

Blokus is a relatively simple game with just a few rules.  However, these 3rd graders are beginning to understand that some of the simplest games require a great deal of strategy to be successful!  I'm not sure that they even noticed I was taking their picture!

These fourth grade students are using a beautiful picture they found of a beach with crashing waves as inspiration for a mural to hang in their classroom.  I can't wait to see it when it is ready for display.

 This fourth grade student has discovered that threading a needle is not as easy at it seems!  It's a bit hard to see but she is at the beginning stages of sewing a personalized bookmark.

Judge Cadue presides over her courtroom as a group of 5th graders have a heated (but respectful) discussion of the crime for which Goldilocks should be tried.  Theft?  Damage to property?  We'll see!

Try try again!  This 5th grade group's first try at the robotics obstacle course was not successful.  They had a fantastic discussion about what they believed they needed to do to fix their initial mistakes.  

Mrs. Dobecka can do more than just teach P.E.!  This 5th grade robotics group benefited from some friendly advice from our favorite P.E. teacher.

 Have a wonderful long weekend with your families and we will see you again on Tuesday, April 10!