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